International Educator - May/June 2012 - 70
Over the last 25 years, successive governments conducted a steady campaign to build up the higher education sector, based upon a consensus that educational weaknesses were holding back development of the country. Still, the educational system has also been wracked by instability, with 27 education ministers serving since 1974. Efforts to grow the system were also in some cases inefficient, says Pedro Nuno Teixeira, director of CIPES, the Portuguese Center for Research in Higher Education Policies. “Fast expansion created a large number of private and public institutions. There are about 180 higher education institutions for a country of 10 million people—that is too many.” Portugal began to suffer in the current crisis after running huge debts with the rest of the world. In late 2011, the Portuguese government announced that higher education and social education support funding would be reduced by nearly 20 percent in 2012.
Most Recent Cuts
Pedro nuno teixeira, director of cIPeS, the Portuguese center for research in Higher education Policies
Portugal’s Bumps on the Road to Catching Up
struggled to recover from a 50-year civilian dictatorship that ended in 1974. During that period, the country’s education system was generally underfunded and undervalued.
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The Impact of Fewer Resources
The cuts will impact the research side of universities more than the instruction side, agrees Alberto Amaral, former rector of the University of Porto and current president
courtesy of pedro nuno teixeira
The latest cuts are particularly painful given previous rounds of cuts imposed in relation to international funding tied to austerity commitments. “Portugal has been on austerity measures for 10 years,” says Teixeira. “We were the first European country to breach a stability pact in 2001 and pay scales in the public sector were frozen for most of the last decade. When in 2008 and 2009 several countries like Spain and Ireland had cuts, our political margin to cut more was more difficult since salaries had been frozen, and in 2009 we had an election year and there was an actual increase in salaries. Then the situation deteriorated further and led to a bailout in 2011.” As part of the latest cuts, salaries have been reduced. Teixeira says that full and associate professors over the 2011 and 2012 period will suffer cumulative wage cuts of 25 to 26 percent. Despite general funding limitations, the government managed to increase science and research for the previous 10 to 15 years as a top national priority. Only in 2011 has it been cut for the first time. Thus, Teixeira says there is a margin for some austerity, though he says more than a year or two will endanger the progress that has been made.
of the board at the Portuguese Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education. “The system was rather irrational with respect to the offering of programs, so there is still space to make it more efficient on the instruction side,” Amaral says. “But that is not the case for research; there will be more impact there.” With fewer resources, the government is now focusing on quality at the higher education level, with Amaral and his agency implementing a new accreditation process over the past three years to ensure adherence to higher educational standards, particularly with respect to many private institutions that Teixeira says were set up with lax oversight. The new requirement calls upon every new higher education program to be submitted to the agency for review, as well as for recertification of existing programs. The result has been that several hundred programs have not sought recertification. “They realized it would be hard for them to be approved,” Teixeira says. “Many closed down their programs. Because of this requirement, public and private institutions are being more careful.” While there is a significant private educational sector in Portugal, unlike many other European countries, some educators contend that it was built on the cheap, often for student who could not gain acceptance to the public