Why studying at a Portuguese university is a great idea
By Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues
President of FLAD’s Executive Council
Nowadays one of the criteria to assess how international a university has become is to see how many foreign students and teachers take part in the activities it carries out.
In this respect, Portuguese universities have progressed a lot: first, because the country has participated in the Erasmus Program for over 20 years, and second, because direct measures have been taken to back research exchange programs and international cooperation. As far as the international projection of Portuguese science is concerned, the results have been remarkable: 48% of Portugal’s scientific output is done in collaboration with foreign institutions. However, when it comes to the internationalization of education at the college level, the numbers show that only 5% of the students attending Portuguese universities are foreigners. It is clear that there is huge potential for growth here. Portugal’s college-level infrastructure is top quality, and has the capacity to take in many more students than it currently does. The increase in national enrollment has depended greatly on the improvement in students’ high school performance and a reduction in the number of drop-outs, as well as the system’s capacity to attract adults wishing to complete their high school and middle school education. Yet the socio-demographic characteristics of both of these segments – though for different reasons – will only translate into limited growth in enrollment at the college level.
One possible, unlimited source of increased enrollment is other Portuguese-speaking countries and countries of the Portuguese Diaspora such as the United States. Neighboring Spain annually attracts more than 20,000 students for its study abroad programs. The same goes for the other countries in Europe. The cooperative ties they have established with US universities to promote summer courses, study abroad programs, and student and teacher exchange initiatives have enabled these other European universities to attract thousands of foreign students who add immeasurably to their international profile. And although Portugal can boast of having hosted countless students from the Erasmus Program, it has currently only been able to attract 150 students per year from the United States. Looking at it from the other side of the Atlantic, it would be easy to see why our country and its system of higher education offer a number of competitive advantages over other European schools. And these advantages can be publicized in more vigorous campaigns to promote Portuguese universities abroad.
The first lies in the quality and innovative nature of Portuguese schools: the quality of the installations, the scientific research being done there, and the various resources that give students access to a broad range of knowledge and information. All these resources have placed many of our institutions high on the ladder of international rankings. In addition, the indicators show that Portugal is one of the European countries that has made the greatest strides in terms of innovation in the last few years.
Second is the cost of tuition and the standard of living. In our country, the financial outlay parents make to put their kids through college is very different from the financial burden the average American family must shoulder to put them through a program of the same quality. This gives Portugal a huge advantage, and makes our universities a truly attractive option.
Third, Portugal is an integral part of Europe. Under the Bologna Process, our certificates and diplomas are automatically recognized throughout Europe, allowing graduates to go elsewhere in the EU for other degree or non-degree programs. This by itself brings untold benefits.
Finally, there’s the opportunity to learn Portuguese, a language that opens doors to Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking African countries, and to the possibility for career enrichment.
These compelling arguments are what led FLAD to inaugurate a program to promote Portuguese universities in the US. Our main idea is to attract American students of Portuguese heritage. Aside from FLAD, the initiative, which we call the Study In Portugal Program, has received the sponsorship of the Portuguese Tourist Board, the Council of University Chancellors, the Fulbright Commission, and the Portuguese Agency for Investment and Foreign Trade, who have all signed a cooperation protocol to launch further initiatives to promote our country as a student destination.