Description of the VET System in Portugal

The education and training system in Portugal is centrally administered with reference to the definition of major policy lines and curricular, teaching and financial guidelines. The Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira have some independence in this area but are subject to the key national guidelines .

The major actors in the administration of the education and training system include three Ministers: Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity , Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education . Their intervention is made predominantly by three Directorates: Directorate-General for Employment and Industrial Relations , Directorate-General for Innovation and Curricular Development and Directorate-General for Higher Education . Additionally, the National Qualifications Agency and Institute for Employment and Vocational Training performs an important role in Portuguese VET system .

The Portuguese vocational education and training system comprises pre-primary, basic, secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary, and tertiary education.

Basic education is universal, compulsory and free, and lasts for nine academic years, beginning at the age of six and ending at the age of 15, in accordance with the Comprehensive Law on the education system . It comprises three sequential and progressive cycles and its successful completion leads to a diploma certifying completion of basic compulsory education.

Secondary education lasts for three years, comprises a single cycle and begins at the age of 15. It can be completed either by studying general courses in the sciences and humanities with a view to pursuing studies at a higher level, or by following a vocational pathway – vocational courses, apprenticeships, education and training courses, specialised art courses, technology courses, adult-education courses; these qualify students to enter the labour market but also allow them to continue their studies.

Post-secondary non-tertiary education comprises specialised technology courses, which prepare and qualify students for work and successful completion of which leads to a diploma in specialised technology. These courses are divided into credit units which can be transferred to tertiary education courses to which they give access. As a result of Portugal’s adhesion to the Bologna Process, tertiary education is undergoing profound restructuring, as regards both curriculum content and the assessment system and awarding of degrees. The usual age of entry into this level of education is 18.

Is relevant to emphasize in this context the Vocational Training Reform Agreement (in 2007) , signed by the government and major Social Partners and that creates the necessary background to the strategy of qualification in terms of the implementation of the double certification principal for young people and working age employed adults (through attending modular education and training courses that are accredited for the purposes of academic and/or vocational certification); establishment of the National System of Qualification (creating CNQ); enhance the reformation of the System for the Accreditation of Training Bodies ; strengthen the improvement in the qualifications of trainers and the involvement of the Social Partners in the supervision and encouragement of vocational training for employees .

Since 1985, the Portuguese system has been structured on the basis of five training levels (International Standard Classification of Education). These levels have achieved public visibility and are recognised and accepted by most actors in vocational education and training systems, as well as by the social partners and enterprises. The new National Qualifications Framework will define the new national qualification levels, in accordance with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).

In general, the VET providers include public, technological and professional schools; universities and other tertiary institutions; training centers of direct management and training professional centers of participated management (both related to the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training); non public operators). Additionally, the Comprehensive Law on the education system institutionalizes the social partners’ participation in vocational education and training. The partners are involved in the general definition of policies and in their pursuance within advisory and social coordination bodies: Economic and Social Council , the National Vocational Training Council and the National Education Council .


On completing their basic education, young people who go on to secondary education can opt either for courses in the sciences and humanities that prepare them for further study or for courses that provide them with vocational qualifications. The latter can be used to enter the labour market or to continue studying. The training offered by courses leading to a qualification can be vocational courses (secondary-level training that last for three academic years and leads to Level 3 vocational qualification and a diploma in secondary education), courses under the apprenticeship system (initial alternance training, intended for young people – between 15 and 25 – and that leads to Level 2 vocational qualification and a certificate of completion of Cycle 3 of basic education, or a Level 3 vocational qualification and a certificate of completion of secondary education) and education and training courses (intended for people aged 15 or over who left or are in risk of leaving the regular education system and for young people who have completed 12 years in school and wish to acquired a vocational qualification; lead to an academic certificate equivalent to year 9 or 12 of school and a Level 2 or 3). Other courses include specialised art courses and technology courses (that leads to a diploma of secondary education and a level 3 vocational certificate) .

Concerning the post-secondary vocational education and training the main offer are Specialized Technology Courses that provide a non tertiary vocational education and training (and leads to a diploma of specialised technology and a Level 4 vocational certificate).


The National Qualification Catalogue is a framework that reflects the system of continuing vocational and training in Portugal: a range of flexible training pathways which make possible to build a vocational qualification project organised in short credit units that allow for the independent certification of skills. The main forms of continuing vocational education and training are aimed at adults of working age (employed, unemployed and groups at risk of exclusion), including adult education and training courses that are intended to raise academic ability and vocational qualifications and enhance employability and certification of acquired learning (aimed at adults over the age of 18 who have no qualification or whose qualifications are inadequate for integration in labour market and lead to a Cycle 3 basic education certificate and a Level 2 vocational certificate or a secondary-education certificate and a Level 3 vocational certificate). The Recognition, Validation and Certification of Skills process is the most common platform for access to these courses. In addition to the precedent forms of training there are also courses aimed specifically at groups that face problems in joining the labour market (most of these courses are promoted by the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training). There are also continuing vocational education and training at the initiative of enterprises or social partners in accordance to the Labour Code that enshrines in law the employers’ obligation to ensure that every year, at least 10% of workers on permanent contract take part in training courses and to assert the right of every work to receive a minimum of 35 hours certified training each year .

Quality assurance

Quality assurance in VET is a transversal issue that has gathering a higher relevance nowadays, not only to achieve important changes (like guaranty the efficacy of VET systems, make easy the access into VET and reinforce the relation between VET and labour) but also to enhance the process of monitoring the results obtained (by reference to the objectives proposed).

Facing the complexity of the VET system different entities are involved in the quality assurance process, either in the dependence of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity (MTSS) or in the dependence of the Ministry of Education (ME). There are also entities regulate by both Ministries. The most relevant entities in this matter are the following:

  • Directorate-General for Employment and Industrial Relations (DGERT) – MTSS: central service, directly administrate by the state whose mission is support the conception of the policies related to employment, training and professional certification and certification of training entities by one hand and to professional relations, job environment and health in workplace by the other hand.
  • Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP) – MTSS: public service of national employment whose mission is promote the creation and quality of work, fighting the unemployment with active policies of employment and vocational training.
  • Cabinet for Strategy and Planning (GEP) – MTSS: has the mission of guaranty the technical support to the formulation of policies and to sustain the operational planning. Is also responsible for the monitoring and evaluations the execution level of the policies, planning instruments and results of the management systems in articulation with other services of the MTSS.
  • Observatory for Employment and Vocational Training (OEFP) – MTSS: is an advisory entity whose mission is contributing to diagnose, prevention and solution of problems in the scope of employment and vocational training.
  • Inspectorate-General of Education (IGE) – ME: has the competence to act directly on the education settings in the services of the ME. It has the responsibility of monitoring, controlling, evaluation and audit technical-pedagogical and administrative-financing activities of the education establishments.
  • Cabinet for Education Statistics and Planning (GEPE) – ME: has the mission of guaranty the production and analysis of the statistics about education, concerning the technical support to the policies formulation, operational planning and the observation and evaluation of the global results obtained in the educational system.
  • Directorate-General for Innovation and Curricular Development (DGIDC) – ME: has the mission of assuring the concretization of the policies related with the pedagogical component of the education and to guaranty the technical support to the formulation of these policies related with curricular innovation and development.
  • National Qualifications Agency – MTSS/ME: is a public institute integrated in the indirect administration of state. Regulated by the MTSS and ME has the mission of coordinating the execution of the educational and vocational training policies related with young people and adults and assuring develop and management of the RVCC system.

All these organizations have a main part in the VET quality assuring. The following table shows their contributions to some quality indicators.

EQARF Indicators

The following PDF attachment summarises evidence identified that relates any indicators used at national level to the ten indicators proposed in the EQARF recommendation: EQARF Indicators Portugal

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