Addressing the Completion Challenge in Portuguese Higher Education

Jonathan Williams



Portugal has faced a significant economic crisis in recent years that is deeply rooted in aging demographics and low productivity. It is evident that strengthening the population’s skills is essential to improve competitiveness. Given this, the Government of Portugal has set an ambitious target for higher education attainment, which can only be achieved through both expanded access and higher completion. This study seeks to answer the research question: What steps can the Portuguese government take during its current mandate (2017 to 2020) to initiate a systematic increase in the higher education completion? We describe the higher education system’s current performance in terms of completion and drop-out and identify key factors that undermine study success, relating to admissions, the quality of education delivery, and financing. We offer three primary recommendations to the Government of Portugal: (1) provide targeted institutional funding for services to identify and support students at risk of dropping out; (2) include performance criteria relating to study success within an institutional funding formula; and (3) tighten rules regarding academic suspension and monitor institutional compliance.

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