A new era for Portuguese Polytechnics

Pedro Dominguinhos, President of Coordinating Council of Portuguese Polytechnics

Armando Pires, Vice-President of EURASHE

In 2019 Portuguese Polytechnics celebrate 40 years of existence. The recent national legislation, namely Decree Law 65/2018 which was published last August, opens a new era for Polytechnics in Portugal. The government finally recognizes the capacity of Polytechnics to award students with a PhD degree, complementing the programmes delivered by Universities in a national binary system.

This change in higher education landscape has its roots in a recent report from OECD, “Review of the Tertiary Education, Research and Innovation System in Portugal” that recognizes the research capacity of Polytechnics and their experience in doctoral education in close cooperation with Universities. In expert words “… some programmes or schools within polytechnics have significant research programmes, host or participate in R&D centres, and collaborate in training or hosting doctoral students from Spanish or Portuguese universities. Growing relationships between universities and polytechnics in the training and hosting of PhD students and the widening participation of polytechnic researchers in R&D Centres and Associated Laboratories together point to emergent model (or models) of doctoral education for polytechnic institutions.”

This is the result of a strong strategic investment in qualification, research capacity and close relationships with actors from regions of the Polytechnics across Portugal, anchored on demanding goals aligned with international standards. Moreover, the number of academic staff with PhD increased three times from around 20% in 2009 to 60% in 2017 in all Polytechnic system. Applications of R&D units, for assessment of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, increased from 15 in 2014 to 42 in 2018, most of them with the participation of several Polytechnics.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Portuguese Polytechnics to deepen their strategy and not to copy a model of Universities. The Polytechnics should develop what we call interface PhD, based on demanding scientific criteria, but designed in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders to solve societal challenges and make a significant impact into the society. At the same time, they could contribute to increasing innovation capacity of private companies. ” − emphasizes Pedro Dominguinhos, President of Coordinating Council of Portuguese Polytechnics. He adds, “As the OECD report recognizes “… although Portugal has improved the level of qualification of its population over recent decades, some mismatches between graduate qualifications and industry needs persist. Specifically, there appears to be an over-emphasis on academically-oriented PhDs in comparison to more professionally-oriented PhDs.”

The new legislation is very demanding for higher education institutions which would like to have PhD programmes. Besides a high qualification of academic staff, hosting R&D units are required to be graded Excellent or Very Good. Cooperating strategies are fundamental to have success on the implementation of PhD by Polytechnics, not only nationally, but also with international partners, with industry and other relevant institutions, to ensure that they are professionally oriented or practice-focused in its profile.

Finally, although this legal act marks the end of a legal discrimination and recognizes the evolution of Portuguese Polytechnics two additional laws still have to amended, namely, the Law of the Education System and the Legal Regime of Higher Education Institutions in order to enable these institutions to prepare the first generation PhD students.