Chapter 7. Academic careers

Academic staff are the backbone of the higher education and public research systems across the world. This chapter explores the development of the academic profession in Portugal and the challenges faced by current and aspiring academics. Academic staff in Portugal’s universities, polytechnics and research centres are better qualified than ever before. However, openings for permanent academic positions are scarce and many junior academics work in comparatively precarious post-doctorate positions with limited opportunities for career progression. Systems within institutions for evaluating and rewarding good performance by staff are underdeveloped and rigid employment rules make it harder for individuals to develop specialised professional profiles. While the Portuguese government has taken steps to address some of these issues, this chapter argues that sustained efforts are required to create conditions where academic staff can fully exploit their skills for the good of their institutions and the country at large.


7.1. Introduction

The effectiveness of the higher education and public research system depends fundamentally on the staff who work in institutions and research units. Having well-trained, motivated staff is a pre-requisite for any effective system. This chapter examines the structure and operation of academic careers in Portugal, with a focus on three key aspects: entry to academic careers; the profile of academic positions, rewards and progression possibilities; and mobility between positions, international openness and retirement.

In relation to these three areas, the key questions addressed by the review include:

  1. 1. Career planning and entry. Do researchers who seek higher education and public research positions have an opportunity to anticipate career openings and plan their training accordingly, and an opportunity to effectively compete for the full range of posts available across Portugal’s higher education and public research system?

  2. 2. The structure of careers. Does the legal framework governing academic and research careers provide staff with an opportunity to choose a career profile that suits their interests and abilities; to be evaluated and rewarded for their contributions to their institution, community, and the wider society; and to advance in recognition of their achievements?

  3. 3. Career mobility, international attractiveness and retirement. Has Portugal established a career system that encourages beneficial mobility of researchers and academics between higher education institutions within Portugal, is able to attract researchers from outside Portugal, and can retain those who might consider leaving? Does the career system permit researchers and academics to adjust their responsibilities in the course of their career, and retire from service in a timely way?

7.2. Context

7.2.1. Entry to academic careers: post-docs and early-stage researcher posts

In Portugal, as elsewhere in the OECD, post-doctoral positions are a common first step in a career in academia or the public research sector. Indeed, research (and to a lesser extent teaching) experience gained through work as a post-doc has become a de facto pre-requisite for obtaining a permanent academic position in the higher education and research sectors.

Post-docs in Portugal have not traditionally been salaried employees of higher education or research institutions, as is the case in some OECD countries, but have rather had the specific status of research fellow (bolseiro) and been reliant on stipends (FCT, 2013). Until changes in 2016, the Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia) (FCT) funded a large proportion of post-doctoral fellowships in Portugal directly through annual calls for applications. FCT post-doctoral fellowships (Bolsas de Pós-Doutoramento – BPD) were awarded for a period of up to six years to candidates already holding a doctorate (preferably obtained within the previous six years). A mid-term evaluation of progress was required after the first three years. Additional post-doctoral stipends have also been – and continue to be – awarded directly to individuals by higher education institutions, FCT-supported research institutes and non-profit research institutions, often funded from the budgets of specific research projects financed by national or European programmes.

From 2004 onwards, the FCT awarded between 400 and 700 post-doctoral fellowships a year. The cumulative effect of this was a steady increase in the total number of FCT-funded post-doctoral positions, with the number of post-docs in receipt of FCT funding reaching a peak of over 2 700 in 2013, before falling to 2 574 in 2016 (Figure 7.1).

Figure 7.1. FCT post-doctoral fellowships: number of active grants and new awards

Source: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), 2017a.

In their responses to the 2015 survey of doctorate holders in Portugal (DGEEC, 2017a), 4 397 doctorate holders (over 15% of total respondents) stated they had the status of post-doctorate fellow (bolseiro), of which over 90% worked in the higher education sector. If accurate (the survey is based on self-reported information), this would mean that there were around 1 800 further post-docs working in Portugal in 2015, in addition to the 2 581 individuals with active FCT post-doctoral fellowships in that year.1 As bolseiros are not counted in a separate category in centrally collected staff statistics for higher education institutions and are dispersed across a range of different types of institution in the country, it is impossible to verify the figures from the Careers of Doctoral Holders survey.

In addition to funding post-doctoral fellowships, the FCT has also run programmes to support the employment of early stage researchers already having completed a period as a post-doc. The Ciência programme2, which operated between 2007 and 2009, created 1 200 posts, funded for up to five years and with hiring decisions for these posts made by institutions following conclusion of a ‘programme-contract’ with the FCT. In 2012, the ‘Investigador FCT’ programme3 was launched as a follow-up to Ciência. This supported a total of over 800 positions through four annual calls between 2012 and 2015, selection for the last of which was concluded at the end of 2017.4 Investigador FCT provided funding for salaries and ‘start-up’ funds for early stage researchers in three categories (‘initial’, ‘development’ and ‘consolidation’). Selection of candidates was based on individual research proposals and co-ordinated centrally through international panels appointed by the FCT, with five-year contracts for successful candidates signed by host institutions (either higher education institutions or research centres).

Box 7.1. New measures to promote scientific employment

The new FCT initiative to promote scientific employment launched at the end of 2017, encompassing implementation of Law 57/2017, will ultimately comprise the following components:

  1. 1. Individual competitions – funding for individual post-doctoral applicants, with annual competitions, the first of which was opened in January 2018. This follows a model similar to Investigador FCT, whereby applicants identify a host institution (an FCT-recognised R&D unit), but apply centrally to the FCT, which co-ordinates the selection process and awards funds to the host institution to cover the costs of the contracts for successful candidates. Four categories of (post-doctoral) researcher will be supported: a) junior researchers (PhD graduates without experience – previously supported by fellowships); b) assistant researchers (at least five years’ experience since PhD); c) principal researchers (additionally demonstrating three years of ‘scientific independence’); and d) co-ordinating researchers (additionally having successfully demonstrated advanced independent research capacity through the agregação exams and demonstrated leadership in the scientific area in which they are applying).

  2. 2. Institutional competitions – funding awarded by the FCT to institutions to support R&D activities that create contractual positions for doctoral researchers, with annual competitions and selection of candidates organised at institutional level.

  3. 3. Scientific employment plans forming part of the 2017-2018 evaluation process for R&D Units funded by the FCT.

  4. 4. Contracts established under the transitional rule of Decree Law 57/2016, amended by Law 57/2017. The FCT will finance the cost of an employment contract for each existing post-doc (bolseiros) who was in receipt of a fellowship funded directly or indirectly by the FCT on 1 September 2016 and who has completed at least three years in post. Appointments to each post created will be made through open competitions to which all eligible candidates can apply.

  5. 5. Research projects – there will be 1 618 R&D projects funded in 2017 each of which should support hiring of at least one doctoral researcher.

In 2016, the government announced its intention to replace both the Investigador FCT programme and the system of post-doc fellowships from 2017 onwards, with a new initiative to foster scientific employment and access to research careers in Portugal (Box 7.1). The legal framework for this new initiative was adopted by Parliament in July 2017.5 A key objective of the reform has been to provide more stability and better social protection6 for post-doctoral fellows by providing them with salaried positions with regular employment contracts, rather than stipends as previously. The new legal regime obliges public higher education and research institutions and those in receipt of public funds to open a competitive recruitment procedure to employ post-doctoral researchers for each post-doc who has been working in their institution (funded by a stipend) for at least three years. Funding for the new positions is initially provided by the FCT.

7.2.2. Academic careers in Portugal

The core academic workforce in Portugal is composed of professors, lecturers and researchers working in the country’s public and private higher education institutions and publicly funded research units. Academics and other staff categories in public institutions have historically been – and in most cases remain – civil servants (funcionários públicos), with contracts aligned to the legislation covering employment in the public sector more generally.7 Public institutions that have moved to foundation status (see Chapter 3. ) can appoint academic and other staff using private law contracts, governed by the general Portuguese Labour Code8 that applies to employees in the private sector. Staff in private institutions are employed exclusively under private law.

Specific provisions relating to the organisation of academic and research careers in public sector institutions are set out in specific legislation for university teaching staff,9 polytechnic teaching staff10 and researchers.11 In 2009, a major reform of the legislation governing careers in universities and polytechnics introduced greater consistency between the two sectors, including the requirement for most polytechnic teachers to hold a PhD. The overall legal framework for higher education institutions in Portugal12 further provides that academic staff in private institutions should be guaranteed careers that mirror those in the public sector.

The legislation on academic careers defines the roles, requirements and recruitment procedures for different academic staff categories. For university teachers, polytechnic teachers and researchers, there are three career main academic grades, which are designed to be equivalent across the three sectors (Table 7.1). Since the 2009 reforms, full-time career academics in these positions are required to hold a PhD. In the polytechnic sector, while the new default position is that teaching staff in all the core academic grades shown in Table 7.1 requires a PhD, the 2009 legislation also created the title of ‘Specialist’ to allow non-PhD holders with relevant professional experience to teach. To obtain this title, individuals with significant professional experience in a relevant area of polytechnic education are required to pass examinations organised by a consortium of polytechnic institutions.13

Table 7.1. Core academic grades in Portugal

University careers

Polytechnic careers

Research careers


Professor catedrático (Full) professor

Professor coordenador principal Principal co-ordinating professor

Investigador-coordenador Co-ordinating researcher

Requires Agregação (Habilitation)

Professor associado Associate professor / Senior lecturer

Professor coordenador Co-ordinating professor

Investigador principal Principal researcher

Professor auxiliar Assistant professor / lecturer

Professor adjunto Adjunct professor / lecturer

Investigador auxiliar

Assistant researcher

‘Experimental’ period of five years, after which post can become permanent

Source: Sindicato Nacional do Ensino Superior (SNESup) (2018).

Academic staff in all sectors are appointed through public competitions and, as a general rule, full-time staff should receive unlimited contracts once they have successfully completed standard probationary periods. In practice, alongside permanent teaching staff and researchers (docentes or investigadores de carreira), academic staff can also be hired at any of the three core academic grades on fixed term contracts, usually on a part-time basis. These staff members are referred to as ‘specially contracted’ or ‘invited’ staff (docentes convidados).14 If, in exceptional cases, ‘invited’ staff members are appointed on a full-time basis, the maximum duration of their contract is limited to four years.

In addition to the core academic grades, a large number of individuals are employed across all sectors on a fixed-term, part-time basis as junior lecturers (assistentes). Often, assistentes are doctoral candidates, who supplement their income through teaching. Other staff categories include bachelor or master’s students employed as part-time teaching assistants (monitores).

A final distinction is made between academic staff who work exclusively for their institution – a status called ‘exclusive dedication’ – and those who also take on other work alongside their academic position (such as private consulting or work in a second institution), even when this is nominally a ‘full-time’ position. Exclusive dedication is considered the default status for academic staff in the relevant legislation. Staff working under the rules of exclusive dedication receive the highest salaries in their respective grades. Those working full-time, but without the commitment to exclusive dedication (simply ‘tempo integral’ – full time) receive two-thirds of this salary and those working part-time receive a salary calculated pro-rata on the basis of the tempo integral salary. As shown in Table 7.2, gross monthly salaries for academic staff in the public sector with ‘exclusive dedication’ are consistent across sectors and range from around EUR 2 300 for the lowest paid assistentes to EUR 5 400 for the highest paid full professors.

Table 7.2. Salaries for academic staff in the public sector in Portugal
Basic gross monthly salaries in euros (2018)

Academic grade 

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Full professor (Professor catedrático)

Principal co-ordinating professor (Professor coordenador principal)

Co-ordinating researcher (Investigador-coordenador)





Associate professor (Professor associado*) Co-ordinating professor (Professor coordenador*) Principal researcher (Investigador principal*)





Assistant professor (Professor auxiliar*)

Assistant researcher (Investigador auxiliar*)





Adjunct professor (Professor adjunto*) (Polytechnics)





Research Assistant (Assistente**)




Note: * without Agregação; ** with Master’s or Doctorate; All salaries are for staff with the status of ‘Exclusive dedication’.

Source: Sindicato Nacional do Ensino Superior (SNESup) (2018).

As a result of the fiscal consolidation implemented in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis, the Portuguese government implemented generalised salary cuts in the public sector, which also affected staff in public universities and polytechnics. In 2011, basic salaries for all teaching staff were cut by 10% and holiday pay reduced. Salaries were then frozen at the lower level for the subsequent years. Further cuts were proposed in 2014, but not implemented. It was only over the course of 2016 that staff salaries were progressively raised again to pre-crisis (2010) levels, where they remain at the start of 2018.

In 2016-2017, a total of 33 160 academic staff were employed in higher education institutions (head count). By far the largest number of teaching faculty is in public universities, followed by public polytechnics. The smallest number of teachers is in private polytechnics. The total headcount in 2016-17 represents a 13% fall in employment from a peak of over 38 000 reached in 2010-11 (DGEEC, 2017b).

Figure 7.2. Evolution of staff numbers (head count) by staff category and sector

Source: Direção-Geral de Estatísticas da Educação e Ciência, DGEEC, 2017b (Table 5).

As shown in Figure 7.2, in public universities, staff numbers and the distribution of posts between staff categories have increased slightly over the last five years, although the increase in absolute numbers masks a small decline in full-time equivalent (FTE) posts. In the same period, total staff numbers fell by over 10% in the public polytechnic sector, by 35% in private universities and by 37% in private polytechnics. Across the sectors that experienced a decline, the greatest numbers of posts have been lost at the assistente level. There were lower rates of decline or even modest increases in the top three academic staff categories in the public and private polytechnic sectors, characterised by higher numbers of permanent staff and greater job security. In the private university sector, however, the number of full professors fell from 406 in 2010-11 to 278 in 2016-17. Moreover, since the 2009 reforms, when the post was created, only 44 people have been appointed to the highest rank of ‘principal co-ordinating professor’ in the public and private polytechnic sectors.

In the public university sector, 29% of assistant professors; 14% of associate professors and 13% of full professors are employed as ‘invited’ staff, meaning they work part time or full time on a fixed-term contract of at most four years’ duration. In the public polytechnic sector, 44% of adjunct professors and 5.5% of co-ordinating professors have ‘invited’ status (DGEEC, 2016a and 2016b). In the public university sector in 2015-16, only 23% of full professors and a third of associate professors were women. In the same academic year, in the public polytechnic sector, the gender ratio was generally more balanced (48% of the 781 co-ordinating professors – the second most senior rank in polytechnics – were women, for example). Of the 21 principal co-ordinating professorships created in public polytechnics up to 2016, 15 were held by men. This pattern of gender balance in the public sector was mirrored almost exactly in the private university and polytechnic sectors.

Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the proportion of teaching staff (all categories) with a PhD increased in the public university sector from 68 to 74%, in private universities from 42 to 61%; in public polytechnics from 21 to 44%; and in private polytechnics from 21 to 35% (DGEEC, 2017b: Table 7). This shift reflects the requirement, created in 2009, that an applicant have a PhD to enter a teaching career in a polytechnic. The same rules guarantee a position in a teaching career to all current polytechnic teachers who finish their doctorate in a specific time. Some of this increase also likely reflects the decline in positions in recent years at private institutions where a PhD is less common.

7.3. Assessment

Policy issue 7.1. Career planning and entry: queuing and inbreeding

Limited employment opportunities, precarious contracts and unrealistic expectations

Access to academic careers in Portugal has become increasingly difficult in recent years as a result of increasing supply of potentially qualified candidates for academic positions and falling demand for new academic staff from the higher education and public research sector. As discussed in Chapter 6, on the supply side, the number of individuals graduating with a PhD in Portugal each year has increased significantly, from around 1 000 in 2005 to almost 2 350 in 2016. Over the same timeframe, total enrolment in higher education in Portugal15 fell by over 6% (from around 380 000 in 2004-05 to 356 000 in 2015-16) and the total number of teachers and researchers in higher education institutions – with all teaching and career researcher categories combined – declined by around 10% between 2004-05 and 2016-17 (DGEEC, 2017b).

Since a peak in the total number of posts in 2010-11, almost 5 000 posts have been lost in Portuguese universities and polytechnics. Three-quarters of these have been in the private sector and 90% at junior lecturer (assistente) level – a staff category that does not require a PhD and is, by definition, employed on fixed-term contracts. However, there has also been a decline in the number of staff employed in core academic grades in universities and polytechnics. As shown in Table 7.3, staff numbers in these core grades in the private sector declined by over 16% between 2010-11 and 2016-17. The decline in the number of posts, seen across all core staff categories in private institutions, resulted from contracts for ‘invited’ teachers not being renewed, non-replacement of staff who retired and, in some cases, permanent staff being made redundant. In the public sector, the picture has been more mixed. Here, there was an increase in the total number of posts in core academic grades, with a 14% increase in the number of posts (almost 1 600 additional posts) at the entry-level positions levels of professor auxiliar (in universities) and professor adjunto (in polytechnics).

Table 7.3. Evolution in staff numbers by core academic grade









Change in number (2011/12-2016/17)

% change (2011/12-2016/17)

Public Sector 

Full professor

1 201

1 222

1 209

1 198

1 224

1 241



Associate professor

2 228

2 231

2 174

2 164

2 184

2 203

- 25


Assistant professor

7 244

7 357

7 404

7 525

7 803

8 101



Tenured researchers







- 93


Principal co-ord. professor









Co-ordinating professor









Adjunct professor

4 434

4 416

4 466

4 557

4 901

5 159



TOTAL Public Sector

16 161

16 370

16 269

16 464

17 152

17 684

1 523


Private Sector 

Full professor







- 107


Associate professor







- 177


Assistant professor

2 379

2 301

2 190

2 069

2 098

2 134

- 245


Principal co-ord. professor









Co-ordinating professor







- 169


Adjunct professor

1 292

1 183

1 157

1 056

1 002

1 114

- 178


TOTAL Private sector

5 349

5 049

4 791

4 439

4 409

4 485

- 864




21 510

21 419

21 060

20 903

21 561

22 169



Note: Figures in headcount. Research career (Carreira de investigação) not included for private universities or private or public polytechnics due to very small numbers of staff involved.

Source: DGEEC (2017a) Inquérito aos Doutorados (CDH – Careers of Doctorate Holders) – Sumários Estatísticos

As discussed in Chapter 6, a potentially desirable consequence of the increased flow of new doctorate holders and falling demand in the academic sector has been an increasing tendency for doctoral graduates to seek and find work in other sectors of the economy. A more problematic consequence has been the increase – illustrated in Figure 7.1 – in the number of doctoral graduates in precarious post-doctoral positions, without formal employment contracts and with limited perspectives of obtaining a permanent academic post in the longer term.

In recent years, the population of post-doctoral researchers in Portugal has not only grown, but grown increasingly older. As shown in Figure 7.3, while in 2001 around 70% of beneficiaries of FCT post-doctoral fellowships were under 35 and only around 10% were over 40, by 2015, fewer than 30% of beneficiaries were under 35 and over 30% were over 40. In parallel, the number of applicants rose from 413 in 2001 to 1 935 in 2015. With 324 fellowships awarded in 2001 and 585 in 2015, this represents a fall in the success rate from 87 to 30% (FCT, 2017a, 2017b, 2017c).

It is not possible to determine what proportion of doctoral graduates in Portugal would ideally like to pursue a career in academia. Neither are there accurate data on the proportion of new PhD graduates who obtain a post-doctoral position and the proportion of post-docs who ultimately transition to an academic post. However, the scale of the challenges facing new doctoral graduates and post-docs in Portugal is illustrated in Table 7.4 First, while almost 15 000 new doctoral graduates ‘came onto the market’ in Portugal between 2011 and 2016,16 in the same time period, only just over 3 000 post-doctoral positions were funded directly by the FCT: a ratio of 1:5, even before competition for post-doc positions from older and international PhD graduates is taken into account. Second, in the same timeframe, the number of academic employment opportunities for those completing periods as post-docs – entry level positions as part-time teachers (assistentes) and on the lowest core academic grade – fell. Even allowing for promotion and retirement (see below) creating ‘replacement positions’, realistic opportunities for post-docs and other PhD holders to transition to core academic posts have been (and remain) few and far between.

Figure 7.3. Age profile of beneficiaries of FCT post-doctoral fellowships

Source: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, 2017b.

Table 7.4. Academic careers: trends in supply and demand


From 2011 to 2016

New PhD graduates and new PhDs recognised in Portugal

+14 942

New post-doc fellowships awarded by the FCT

+3 066

Change in total number of assistente positions (private and public sector)

-4 948

Change in total number of professor auxiliar and professor adjunto positions (private and public sector)


Source: DGEEC, 2016c, FCT, 2017a, DGEEC 2017b.

The trends described above are by no means unique to Portugal. In the United States and other OECD countries, for example, there is an ongoing discussion about how to respond generally to the increased number of PhD graduates (see Chapter 5. ) and, specifically, to the ‘post-doc pile-up’ created by expanded use of post-doctoral positions (see Nature, 2015). Across countries, academic research departments, particularly in the natural sciences and engineering, have increasingly come to rely on post-docs as a source of highly qualified, but cheap, labour to staff laboratories and conduct the day-to-day business of research. Although, under the right circumstances, individuals can gain valuable research experience and develop other skills relevant to their future careers, spending prolonged periods as a post-doc has clear disadvantages. Alongside the stress and uncertainty created by short-term contracts (or grants as in Portugal), post-doc positions may lead individuals to specialise too narrowly and leave little time for them to prepare adequately for subsequent transition to a job outside the academic sector – even though this is statistically the most probable outcome for most.

A new initiative to create academic employment opportunities that carries risks

The new initiative to promote scientific employment launched by the government in 2016 (Box 7.1) has the stated aim of creating more and more stable research posts in the academic sector and, in so doing, helping to address the precarious situation of post-doctoral fellows in Portugal. The package of measures involves replacing stipends with employment contracts for new post-docs and obliging higher education institutions to open a contractual position when they have an existing post-doc that has been in receipt of a fellowship for three years or more. The FCT will cover the cost of the newly created contractual position for a period of up to six years, after which time institutions are obliged to open a permanent position. At each step – the initial creation of a contractual position and the subsequent opening of a permanent position – there will be a competitive selection process, open to all qualified candidates.

Key objectives of the new initiative are laudable. First, the move away from stipends to formal employment contracts means new post-docs will benefit from greater stability and better conditions, most notably in relation to accumulation of pension rights. The shift also brings Portugal into line with standard practice in many other advanced research systems. Second, the aim of creating new permanent research positions at different levels (from junior researcher to co-ordinating researcher), rather than temporary post-doc positions, is broadly consistent with recommendations made elsewhere in the world to tackle the ‘post-doc pile-up’ and enhance the productivity of the research system. A 2014 report of the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, for example, recommends shifting the composition of research units in the United States towards a model based on a higher ratio of permanent ‘staff scientists’ to post-doctoral ‘trainees’ (National Academies, 2014).

However, the new initiative – and particularly the transitional procedures planned to support existing post-docs – also carries risks. First, for individual PhD graduates and existing post-docs, the new system risks perpetuating unrealistic expectations about the chances of obtaining a permanent academic post and diverting individuals from exploring job options and opportunities in other sectors. Permanent positions in the academic sector will not be opened in the short-term (the system initially creates another set of temporary contracts) and, provided competitions in institutions are implemented – as they should be – in a fair and transparent way, incumbent post-docs are by no means guaranteed to obtain the contractual post that their current fellowship gives rise to.

Second, for the institutions, the transitional regime proposed risks tying (future) resources to existing areas of post-doctoral research activity and restricting opportunities to refocus activities in line with renewed institutional profiles and institutional and national development strategies. In simple terms, institutions may ultimately be forced to create permanent positions in fields where they do not need permanent researchers, thus diverting resources for priority areas. At the same time, the proposed system could compound Portugal’s already serious problem of inbreeding, whereby permanent academic staff are trained and pursue a career exclusively in one institution, rather than gaining experience in multiple locations.

Inbreeding already creates its own challenges

Entry to academic and research careers in Portugal is already marked by a high degree endogamy or inbreeding. Institutions have a strong tendency to recruit their own doctoral graduates and staff may go on to pursue their entire career within the same institution. Evidence from Portugal shows that “inbred” scholars produce less research and research of lower quality than those who have been trained outside the institution in which they make their career (Tavares et al. 2017). Moreover, inbreeding is widely thought to encourage traditionalism, and to endanger excellence and innovation (Altbach et al., 2015). Viewed in comparison to decades past, “recruitment processes in Portuguese academia have been opening up and decisions to hire candidates are increasingly based on merit.” However, in spite of the extensive legal reforms adopted in 2009 (Tavares et al., 2017), “formal and informal barriers to open and meritocratic hiring still endure” (Horta, 2013).

Doctoral and postdoctoral students with whom the Review Team met frequently expressed their aspiration to make a career in the institution in which they had been trained. Recent analyses by DGEEC (2017b) shows that 70% of public university faculty received their PhD at the institution in which they hold their appointment, 19% took their PhD abroad and another 10% hold a PhD from a different Portuguese university.

The level of inbreeding varies between and within public higher education institutions. In some organic units more than 95% of those holding career appointments have received their doctorate at the institution, while in others – exceptionally – fewer than 5% have done so. Additionally, there is significant variation in inbreeding by faculty rank. Variation in inbreeding arises from many factors, including exclusiveness (or, near-exclusiveness) of supply, the physical isolation of higher education institutions, the age and reputation of the institution, and norms and practices that favour local candidates.

Policy issue 7.2 The structure of careers: weak differentiation and performance-based rewards

Centralised regulation of staff workloads restricts flexibility and limits specialisation

Careers in public higher education institutions are structured to a large extent by national legal and regulatory frameworks. As well as defining staff categories and selection requirements, the specific legislation dealing with careers for university and polytechnic teaching staff also specifies maximum and minimum ratios for particular grades and staff categories, imposes minimum and maximum teaching hours and contains general guidelines relating to staff evaluation, promotion and pay. Portugal also has the specificity of having a distinct legal basis to regulate research careers, even though university – and increasingly polytechnic – teachers (docentes) are expected to conduct research as well as teach. The comparatively detailed regulation of academic careers in law in Portugal creates rigidities in the system, in particular in relation to the way staff use their time and profile themselves.

The legal basis for university careers17 (Article 71) specifies that university teachers must teach between six and nine hours each week, while the equivalent legislation for polytechnic careers18 (Article 34) specifies between six and 12 hours teaching per week. Interviewees in many of the institutions visited during the Review visits told the Review team that this centralised regulation of workload created a significant obstacle to staff organising their time and developing their careers effectively. In particular, the uniform weekly teaching requirements mean it is difficult – in the strict sense of the law, at least – for teaching staff to vary their teaching workload over the course of a year or a number of years. This can make it harder to dedicate specific periods to research or for some staff members to profile themselves to a greater extent in research or teaching. Academic staff interviewed during the OECD Review visits expressed frustration that exceptional contributions to research and external collaboration with firms were not recognised through a re-balancing of responsibilities among faculty missions.

Although the concerns of staff about the inflexibility of the legal provisions are legitimate, the principle that academic staff should both teach and conduct research is both fundamental to the European university tradition and crucial to ensuring high quality research-based instruction in universities and polytechnics. The most appropriate solution would appear to be to introduce more flexibility into the law to allow staff to develop more differentiated profiles, while maintaining the link between teaching and research.

Evaluation, pay-setting and promotion procedures do little to reward good performance

Facilitating the allocation of time to different tasks and objectives is one issue. Ensuring staff are supported and incentivised to perform their tasks well and achieve their objectives is another. According to the legislation governing teaching and research careers, academic staff in Portugal should be subject to a system of continuous performance evaluation.19 The specific procedures are to be agreed in each higher education institution, after consultation with trade unions. The legislation also specifies that the results of staff evaluations are to be used to inform decisions about contract renewal, conversion to indefinite contracts and individual pay increases (alteração do posicionamento remuneratório). No further details about the design of evaluation processes or the link between performance and rewards are provided at national level, other than the legislative stipulation that individuals who are classified in the top performance category for six consecutive years must be granted an individual pay rise.

Few public higher education institutions have provided opportunities for academic staff to collaborate in the design of performance evaluation systems that are well-understood and well-regarded, and that permit faculty members to choose evaluation profiles that align to their preferred career profiles. Those higher education institutions that have chosen to adopt foundation status have the possibility to establish positions under private rather than public law, providing them with an opportunity to establish their own policies with respect to compensation and teaching responsibilities. However, only six institutions have adopted foundation status, and few of those have established alternative career policies for academics holding private law appointments.

Several factors have hindered the widespread implementation of effective performance evaluation and reward systems in Portuguese higher education institutions. As in other countries, the principle of academic autonomy and the absence of any tradition of performance evaluation for staff in higher education have made progress in this area slow. In addition, the rigid national pay scale applied in public institutions, with relatively few pay steps in each grade and comparatively small pay differences between steps (Table 7.2), and the absence of public money to fund individual pay rises in recent years have made it difficult to develop systems of performance evaluation which link performance with financial rewards.

Policy issue 7.3. Career mobility and retirement: low mobility and late retirement

Limited incentives for mobility between institutions in Portugal

Those who hold career appointments in academia in Portugal tend not to move between institutions in the country. The data showing the proportions of academic staff in public universities that gained a PhD in the institution where they currently work (DGEEC, 2017b) points to very low rates of inter-institutional mobility throughout individuals’ careers. The combination of a national salary scale and low differentiation in career profiles across institutions reduces the incentives for academics to move institutions to obtain a role that better fits their desired profile or in order to gain a pay rise. The numerous available opportunities to conduct research outside one’s host institution through affiliation with an associated laboratory or R&D centre further reduce the incentives to move. As noted in the earlier discussion on inbreeding, limited mobility reduces the range of experience gained by individuals and the innovation and development benefits for institutions of bringing in ‘new blood’ (Altbach et al., 2015).

The Portuguese higher education system fails to attract many international staff

Inbreeding and the comparatively static nature of academic careers in Portugal are also contributing factors in explaining the comparatively low level of internationalisation among academic staff in the country. The proportion of international staff in higher education institutions has remained stable at a comparatively low level over the last decade. In the academic year 2016-17, of the 33 160 academic staff (all categories) in public and private higher education in Portugal, 1 126 (or 3.4%) were of non-Portuguese nationality. The proportion of non-Portuguese academic staff varies between 4.6% in public universities, 3.3% in the private university sector and less than 2% in public and private polytechnics. Twenty-five percent of non-Portuguese staff held Spanish nationality and roughly 10% each Italian, United Kingdom and German nationality (DGEEC, 2016a).

Many of the factors that make Portugal an attractive destination for international students (notably in the EU-sponsored Erasmus+ programme), such as culture, climate, cost-of-living and the reputation of Portuguese higher education in certain specific disciplines, hold equally for international staff. As more programmes have been created that are taught partially or entirely in English, language has become less of a barrier for academics from abroad than it once was. The level of salaries in relation to the cost of living makes them comparatively competitive. However, alongside the tendency for inbreeding, limited job opportunities in recent years, pay cuts and freezes and the wider structural problems affecting the organisation and performance of the system that are discussed in this report, have all combined to reduce the more general attractiveness of Portuguese higher education for international academics.

A tendency for older staff to remain in post

Another aspect of the static nature of staffing in Portuguese higher education reported to the Review team during interviews is that older staff often remain in post beyond pensionable retirement age, limiting opportunities for younger staff members to advance into more senior posts. Interviewees argued that this problem is particularly pronounced in the public and private university sectors.

Data on the number of staff remaining in post beyond pensionable age is not available. Available data does, however, highlight the relatively high age of the teaching staff in Portuguese universities. In public universities, 50% of full professors and 28% of associated professors were over 60 in 2015-16. The equivalent figures for the smaller private university sector were 71 and 29%. As illustrated in Figure 7.4, across the public and private university sectors, 17% of staff in the core academic grades are over 60 and very few staff are appointed to the level of full professor before the age of 50.

Figure 7.4. Age profile of core academic staff in public and private universities, 2016

Source: Direção-Geral de Estatísticas da Educação e Ciência DGEEC, 2017a.

Given the limited opportunities to tailor activities to current strengths, those who may be beyond the peak of their research productivity have few opportunities to reallocate their responsibilities to areas in which advanced seniority might improve performance, such as institutional administration and community engagement. Research (such as Stephan and Levin, 1992) has shown that the age of academic staff matters: those trained in the 1980s and 1990s, not to mention the 1970s, are less likely to be at the forefront in adopting and implementing new technologies and methods. The relationship between age and productivity is stronger in the physical and earth sciences than in the life sciences. Older scientists may also stifle the creativity and productivity of the relatively fewer younger scientists who are working in Portugal today. Such a view is consistent with Max Planck’s belief that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” (Stephan and Levin, 1992).

Based on available data of the age profile of university teaching staff, if the same number of posts is maintained in the university system and staff are encouraged to leave by at least the age of 70, some 2 400 posts in the university sector will open up through retirement in the next decade. This should create opportunities for younger staff to secure more senior academic posts.

7.4. Recommendations

Recommendations on strengthening career planning and entry

7.1. Improve information and guidance to prospective academic staff

Portugal needs to ensure talented people are able to make the best use of their knowledge and skills for the good of the country. Ensuring the brightest and best are attracted to careers in academia and public research is an important part of this. However, in the current system in Portugal – as in other OECD countries – too many young (and less young) doctoral graduates seek to embark on an academic career with unrealistic expectations about the probability of ultimately securing an academic post. This can lead to a sub-optimal use of talent, as individuals devote time and energy to pursuing unrealistic goals, when they could be otherwise engaged in rewarding jobs with stronger long-term career prospects. The higher education sector as a whole has a responsibility to be more transparent about the likely flow of job opportunities and the purpose of post-doctoral positions.

Appropriate public authorities, including the FCT, along with higher education institutions, should develop guidance and information campaigns to ensure those considering an academic career are well informed, including:

  • Making clear that post-doctoral positions are only appropriate for those seeking to pursue an advanced research career, and should not be viewed as the default step for those completing doctoral training.

  • Publishing transparent information about likely recruitment of staff into entry-level academic positions (professor auxiliar, professor adjunto, investigador auxiliar) by providing project recruitment plans for the next five years, which are updated annually.

7.2. Ensure that post-doctoral positions (Investigador júnior) allow post-docs to gain skills and experience that can be exploited outside academia

Recognising that entry to permanent academic posts will – and must – remain highly competitive, those who do embark on a period as a post-doc under the new system of post-doctoral support in Portugal must be supported to develop experience and skills which they can also use to obtain and thrive in work outside the academic sector in Portugal. As a condition for receiving direct or indirect funding from the state (primarily directed through the FCT), post-docs and their host institutions should be required to jointly produce a career and skills development plan setting out specific measures the post-doc will take to develop their wider skills sets and how the institution will support the post-doc in skills development and career planning. All post-docs should have access to a mentor, who is different from their direct supervisor, who can support them in career planning.

7.3 Adapt FCT funding rules to counter inbreeding

In order to promote greater mobility of students and junior researchers between Portugal’s higher education institutions and research centres, the FCT should make mobility a condition of the award of a majority of its funding for doctoral training and junior researcher (post-doc) positions. To receive FCT funding doctoral candidates should be required to train in a different institution to the one where they completed their previous education. Junior researchers should be required to work in institutions other than the one that awarded their PhD. Exceptions to this general rule may be permitted where research topics are so specific that relevant training or junior research opportunities are available in only a single institution in Portugal. However, care must be taken to limit such exceptions and maintain the general principle that trainee researchers and junior researchers should move institution.

7.4. Ensure fixed-term and permanent employment positions created through the new initiative for scientific employment support institutional profiling and development strategies.

The new system to support scientific employment must be used to support the development of institutional profiles as recommended above. The best available candidates need to be employed in research and teaching activities that help the institution develop its areas of strength and build its profile. The objective of creating more permanent research posts is commendable and consistent with recommendations made in other research systems. However, it is imperative that the new system does not lead to poor quality candidates being employed on permanent contracts in fields which contribute little to institutional development and the needs of Portuguese society more generally. To avoid this, the Portuguese authorities should:

  • Ensure that alignment with institutional profiling and national development goals is a criterion in the selection of new post-docs and other research posts created through the initiative on scientific employment.

  • Encourage applications to posts from individuals based or educated in institutions other than the host institution for the post.

  • Allow institutions the maximum degree of flexibility in creating permanent academic posts after the subsidised fixed-term contract periods have expired, notably through avoiding a narrow definition of the scientific area in which the new post should be created.

Recommendations on ensuring greater differentiation in the career structure

7.5. Ensure institutions and academic staff have flexibility to allocate staff time efficiently and to follow different career profiles

The legal framework for academic careers should be modified, as necessary, to allow higher education institutions to set their own policies on the allocation of time among teaching, research and outreach obligations in response to short-term changes in opportunities and responsibilities. Further, HEI should create opportunities for staff to choose among differentiated career profiles for those who wish to adopt long-term changes to the balance of responsibilities they perform. Policymakers should use the new role of A3ES as an evaluator of higher education institutions as part of this process. Institutional review by A3ES should permit higher education institutions to demonstrate their fitness and capacity to take responsibility for workload and career profiles, and permit institutions to become self-regulating with respect to workload and career profile policies rather than subject to national regulation.

7.6. Encourage institutions to implement transparent and merit-based procedures for staff performance review that are aligned to institutional mission, and support differentiation in pay and rewards.

After transparent systems of performance review aligned to institutional mission are established, they should be used to support differentiation in compensation and other rewards. In the near term, these agreed evaluation systems should initially be used to support the allocation of benefits permissible under current law, such as performance bonuses, and temporary revisions to teaching obligations (within the national framework). In the longer run, performance evaluation plans should be used to support decisions about within-rank increases in compensation; limited adjustments to base compensation that may become available within a modified legislative framework; and to guide decisions for those who hold appointments under private law in foundation universities.

Recommendation for ensuring greater career mobility

7.7. Promote near-term measures to increase inter-institutional mobility and timely retirement, while, in the long-term, adopting reforms that increase domestic and international mobility.

In the near term, promote inter-institutional mobility through short-term faculty exchange programmes and expanded opportunities for visiting appointments through funds allocated by FCT, and awarded by higher education institutions. Additionally, ensure that research staff retires at a fully pensionable age, in line with national legislation, to ensure senior positions are freed up. The reforms described above – with wider institutional responsibility to set workload, career profile, and compensation policies that are aligned to differentiated institutional profiles – will significantly increase domestic mobility by creating incentives for mobility that are presently absent. These reforms, in combination with the further development of private law employment in foundation universities, will make Portugal a significantly more attractive destination for researchers than it is at present.


Altbach, P.G., M. Yudkevich and L.E. Rumbley (2015), Academic inbreeding: local challenge, global problem, Asia Pacific Education Review, Vol. 16, Issue 3, Springer Netherlands, pp 317–330

DGEEC (2017a) Inquérito aos Doutorados (CDH – Careers of Doctorate Holders) – Sumários Estatísticos

DGEEC (2017b) Perfil do Docente do Ensino Superior – 2016/17

DGEEC (2017c) Indicadores de endogamia académica nas instituições públicas de ensino universitário – 2015/16

DGEEC (2016a) REBIDES – Inquérito ao Registo Biográfico de Docentes do Ensino Superior, Evolução do Número de Docentes por Categoria, 2010/11 a 2015/16 – Ensino Universitário, DGEEC.

DGEEC (2016b) REBIDES – Inquérito ao Registo Biográfico de Docentes do Ensino Superior, Evolução do Número de Docentes por Categoria, 2010/11 a 2015/16 – Ensino Politécnico, DGEEC.

DGEEC (2016c), Principais resultados do RAIDES (Registo de Alunos Inscritos e Diplomados do Ensino Superior) 16 – Diplomados, (accessed 6 February 2018).

FCT (2017a) Evolução do financiamento (em m€) e do número de bolsas em execução de doutoramento e pós-doutoramento, 1994-2016, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia,

FCT (2017b) Bolsas de pós-doutoramento concedidas por escalão etário, 1994-2015 Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia,

FCT (2017c) Bolsas de pós-doutoramento. Evolução do número de candidaturas nos concursos individuais 1998-2016, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia,

FCT (2017d) Regulamento do Emprego Científico, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

FCT (2015) Bolsas de Formação Avançada: Regulamento de Bolsas de Investigação da Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia,

FCT (2013) Estatuto do Bolseiro de Investigação, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

Horta, H. (2013) “Deepening our understanding of academic inbreeding effects on research information exchange and scientific output: new insights for academic based research”, Higher Education, Vol. 65, Springer Netherlands, pp. 487–510 DOI 10.1007/s10734-012-9559-7.

National Academies (2014), The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited ISBN 978-0-309-31446-6, DOI 10.17226/18982.

Nature (2015) The Future of the Postdoc, Nature 520, 144–147 (09 April 2015)

SNESup (2018) Vencimentos e Quotas Sindicais 2018 Sindicato Nacional do Ensino Superior

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← 1. The dispersion of post-docs across different types of institution and a lack of systematic data collections makes it impossible to verify the figures from the CDH with any certainty.

← 2.

← 3.

← 4.

← 5. Decree-law 57/2016 (29 August 2016), amended by Parliament through Law 57/2017 (19 July 2017) Diário da República n.º 138/2017, Série I de 2017-07-19.

← 6. Notably unemployment insurance and pension contributions.

← 7. Law 35/2014 Lei Geral do Trabalho em Funções Públicas.

← 8. Código do Trabalho, last revised in 2009 through Law 7/2009.

← 9. Estatuto da Carreira Docente Universitária, Decree-Law 448/1979, amended by Decree-Law 205/2009 and Law 8/2010.

← 10. Estatuto da Carreira do Pessoal Docente do Ensino Superior Politécnico, Decree-Law 185/1981, amended by Decree-Law 207/2009 and Law 7/2010. In addition, Decree-law 45/2016 extends the transition period during which teaching staff in Polytechnics are required to obtain a PhD or the status of ‘Specialist’.

← 11. Estatuto da Carreira de Investigação Científica, Decree-Law 124/1999, Diário da República n.º 92/1999, Série I-A de 1999-04-20.

← 12. Law 62/2007: RJIES – Regime Jurídico das Instituições de Ensino Superior.

← 13. Decree-Law 206/2009.

← 14. Temporary or part-time staff from foreign institutions are referred to as docentes visitants.

← 15. Excluding vocationally oriented Cursos de Especialização Tecnológica (CET), some of which were provided in higher education institutions.

← 16. Some of whom were teaching staff in polytechnics who ‘upgraded’ their qualification level in an existing post.

← 17. Estatuto da Carreira Docente Universitária, Decree-Law 448/1979, amended by Decree-Law 205/2009 and Law 8/2010.

← 18. Estatuto da Carreira do Pessoal Docente do Ensino Superior Politécnico, Decree-Law 185/1981, amended by Decree-Law 207/2009 and Law 7/2010. In addition, Decree-law 45/2016 extends the transition period during which teaching staff in Polytechnics are required to obtain a PhD or the status of ”Specialist”.

← 19. Article 74-A of Decree-Law 205/2009 on university careers, for example.

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