Portugal and the new perspectives on the International Student Recruitment

Portugal and the new perspectives on the International Student Recruitment



Portugal is experiencing an economic and academic renaissance. The grim shadows of economic crisis which had enveloped the country starting in 2008 and the following years have now yielded to a bright present.


At the time when the country’s public and private debt crisis triggered austerity mechanisms, many young people, like a generation or two before, prepared to embark to more prosperous shores in other European destinations. One survival strategy entailed pursuing university studies in other European countries: The UK, France, Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands, in preparation for a professional life away from home.


The tide has turned on the country’s economy. In those days the troika formed by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union imposed budget restrictions and cuts to social programmes. But now the Portuguese economy is growing above even optimistic expectations. Fueled by booming tourism, a strong housing sector, and a budding high-tech industry, the country’s exports are increasing and there is remarkable foreign direct investment.


A country with educational priorities and means to pay for them


As the country reflects on the steps that have led to its success, it has determined the high value of innovation. Capital investment in new technologies and refinement of new, more competitive business practices have resulted in economic dynamic which makes the country both eager to develop expertise and capable of affording it, thanks to its newly conquered prosperity. This makes Portugal a prime market for foreign educational institutions offering to train its future workforce.


Portugal’s economy has been expanding steadily since the third quarter of 2014. This growth has been accompanied by a dramatic fall in unemployment which currently (2019) stands at 6.3, compared to 13.9 in 2014. The recent increase in revenues, on one hand, and the increasing competitiveness for jobs, on another, create an environment ideal for foreign universities to recruit Portuguese students. To many families seeking to consolidate a secure future, University studies at the B.A. or M.A., particularly in EU member states, seem a very sound and thoroughly rational investment.


What are some of the areas of special interest for students coming from Portugal? Manufacturing and construction account for close to a third of Portugal’s GDP. The aeronautics sector is growing rapidly with important operations serving Airbus and Embraer. Thus, universities that can offer good engineering degrees will appeal to Portuguese students. Aeronautical and Chemical Engineering, Electronics, Software, can reasonably be predicted to hold strong appeal among potential Portuguese students. As the country’s agricultural, pharmaceutical, and biotech sectors develop and implement structural reforms fuelling their growth, the demand increases for qualified personnel with knowledge in biology, microbiology, biochemistry, and medicine.


Tourism has traditionally been an important sector of the Portuguese economy. Fully 8% of employment in the country is tourism related. This means that young people with language, management, and people skills are in high demand in the country. A high number of Portuguese studying abroad pursue arts and humanities curricula with foreign languages as a component. Here again, foreign universities offering programmes in English will stand out in a market where students are eager to make themselves more competitive in a slowly overheating job market. Obviously hospitality management careers and the universities in Switzerland, France, The Netherlands, and elsewhere, offering preparation for them, deserve mention in connection with this development.


Preferred destinations and challenges


At the time of writing, Portugal has a student population of approximately 350,000 students. Of these 3.7% study abroad. Table 1 below, shows the countries where Portuguese students abroad flock to in the United States and Europe.


Country Number of Students %
United Kingdom 3,079 24.1%
France 1,938 15.2%
Spain 1,586 12.4%
United States 867 6.8%
Germany 595 4.7%
Netherlands 527 4.1%

Table 1 –Number of Portuguese students in Europe and the USA by country in 2016. Source: campusfrance.org


In this connection, it is relevant to point out, that for many young Portuguese, the studying abroad option was part of a larger long-term strategy of pursuing paid employment in the target country, during and after university studies.




Portugal has the highest emigration rate of any country in the European Union.

Historically, it is a country of adventurers seeking to conquer newer horizons and dreams overseas. Portugal is a country with a strong work ethic and with above average academic performance in OECD ratings. Its newly established economic prosperity and the over competitive job market that goes with it creates an ideal environment for marketing educational services abroad.


The take home message is that Portugal has high quality, dynamic students, prepared to be adventurous in other countries with the goal of making themselves stronger in the growing job market.

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