International Educator - May/June 2012 - 72
system, and is not competitive with the public system. Teixeira says one relatively positive factor in the past for university graduates, given their past relative scarcity, was that university graduates had a relative broad range of options and the ability to be selective. “Now, however, that is changing,” Teixeira says. “Many graduates are finding fewer options in Portugal, so they are now heading for Portuguese-speaking Brazil, where the economy is booming, Angola, [a former Portuguese colony] where there is construction activity, or elsewhere in Western Europe.” Like Tiago Fleming Outeiro, many Portuguese researchers and professors are also looking for opportunities abroad, says Pedro Carneiro, a Portuguese associate professor of economics at University College London who also lectures at Georgetown University.
University of Porto
A positive factor at the higher education level, Teixeira says, is that the relative cost scales are lower than elsewhere in Europe and relatively greater ability to tap student tuition as a substantial source of university funding. “Public institutions in Portugal have become more private-oriented in terms of the revenue public institutions charge tuition fees,” Texieira says. “While it’s smaller than public in the U.S., it’s significant when you compare us to the standard in Europe. For some institutions, it is an important part, from 15 to 20 percent, of their revenues, with a cap of €1,000.” A large challenge to higher education participation and achievement are the lingering effects of poverty and inequality earlier in life on preparation for college, Carneiro says. “I’m 37 and in my generation, half the population dropped out of high school,” Carneiro says. “In my parents’ generation, it was 80 percent. Also, the literacy level for dropouts as measured by the OECD is that 70 percent of Portuguese dropouts are not literate enough to be able to get by in modern society, so they are less functional than dropouts in, for example, Germany.” The government has responded accordingly. “The current education minister is more concerned about basic and secondary education,” Teixeira says. “The problem is not higher education. Our higher education system doesn’t compare badly with other European countries. It’s at the primary and secondary levels that we have greater problems.”
“I think that the good researchers are trying to leave, especially if they are at the peak of their careers,” says Carneiro. “In the last few years, I’ve seen people going to England. It’s not just the crisis—it’s that the policy environment for funding research in Portugal is not exactly stable and there are many tax rules. In times of crisis, you feel the uncertainty more. It’s not like you are in a country with a long tradition of funding research and where funding is likely to stay at a reasonable level. In Portugal, there is not that certainty. Many researchers also don’t have permanent positions and are living off grants until they are 45.”
Students Must Chip In
Carneiro says that the crisis has brought into focus the need for students to bear some of the educational costs, given the large benefits of a university degree. He says that also needed is a robust private loan system such as that of the United States.
At the heart of the crisis of European higher education, similar to that of the United States, are difficult choices regarding allocation of a suddenly more scarce pool of resources. An ominous aspect of the government and administrative decisions made in response is that their effects tend to be lagging, long reaching, and difficult to predict. “Education is a funny thing,” says Stanford’s Hanushek. “Those in power say, ‘This is important for future’ but that’s often lip service and they make the decisions they will make. Part of the problem is that the results of making mistakes don’t show up for a while.” But while in good part a crisis of resources, and allocation of the same, some European academics fear that the economic and educational crises reflect a larger societal crisis of values—and not just in Europe. “Take the radical student groups that take actions culminating in closing the campuses—in my view, these groups are making irrational demands and they obscure and distort reality,” says Technical University of Crete’s Hristopulos. “What matters to them is to show to the other students that they
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