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The Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area

The Bologna Process owes its name to the so-called Bologna Declaration that was signed on 19 June 1999 in the city of Bologna, Italy, by the ministers responsible for higher education in 29 European countries, including Portugal. This was an inter-governmental agreement to reform the higher education sector at the European level, inspired by the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, which led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The EHEA intends to be an open area where students and graduates can benefit from mobility and fair access, without obstacles, to high-level quality education.

The core bases of this area are the mutual recognition of diplomas and other higher education qualifications, the transparency (readable and comparable degrees organised in a three-cycle structure) and European cooperation on quality assurance.

Within this context, the Lisbon Recognition Convention of 1997 and the pan-European transparency tools such as the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and the Diploma Supplement play a crucial role. Equally important are the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area and the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. The latter function as admission criteria for national quality assurance agencies to be accepted into the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).

Currently the EHEA gather 47 countries that are signatories of the European Cultural Convention, which cooperate in a flexible manner, involving international organisations and European associations that represent higher education institutions, students, academic staff and employers.

The European degree system based on three study cycles and its implementation at UC 

The degree system in force at the University of Coimbra is structured in accordance with the European Higher Education Area principles.

1st Cycle Studies
First Cycle Studies have six/eight semesters’ duration and confer 180-240 ECTS credits. This study level provides students with basic knowledge in the subject areas of the course and with instrumental and systemic competences focused on students’ employability and preparation for further studies, namely at second cycle level.

2nd Cycle Studies
Second Cycle Studies have three/four semesters’ duration and confer 90-120 ECTS credits. In this study level, besides the attendance of course units, students have also to write and defend publicly an original thesis. In the case of professionally-oriented programmes, instead of the thesis, students can participate in an internship or project and write and defend the concerned reports. In both cases, students are always supervised by a professor.

Integrated Master (Integrated Study Cycle – 1st and 2nd Cycles)
The Integrated Master ("Mestrado Integrado") is an integrated study cycle which combines the 1st cycle and the 2nd cycle levels. It applies to courses which prepare students to practice specific professions such as engineers, medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists. The integrated study cycle encompasses a set of course units, the writing and public defence of an original thesis or of a project or internship report, at the end of the programme. The programme’s duration is ten/twelve semesters and confers 300-360 ECTS credits. Upon successful completion of the entire study cycle students are awarded the master’s degree and are professionally qualified.

Doctorate, 3rd Cycle Studies
There are two types of doctorates: one without study programme and one with study programme.

The doctorate without study programme lasts normally ten semesters. Students carry out research under the supervision of a professor, write and defend publicly an original thesis.

The doctorate with study programme has six/eight semesters’ duration and confers 180-240 ECTS credits. Besides carrying out research, writing and defending publicly an original thesis, students have also to attend a set of advanced course units.

UC Degree System

(*) This limit does not apply to the cases in which the access to the practice of a certain professional activity requires an academic cycle of studies with 210 or 240 ECTS credits.

(**) The Mestrado Integrado is an integrated study cycle which combines the 1st cycle and the 2nd cycle levels. It applies to courses which prepare students to practice specific professions such as engineers, medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists. The programme’s duration is ten/twelve semesters and confers 300-360 ECTS credits. The duration and the number of credits of the programme are set according to: a) legal standards and b) stable and consolidated practice within the European Union. Upon successful completion of the integrated study cycle, students are awarded a 2nd cycle degree.

ECTS - the European credit system at UC

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a student-centred system based on the student workload required to achieve the objectives of a programme of study. These objectives should preferably be specified in terms of learning outcomes and competences to be acquired.

ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits measure the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. The student workload of a full-time study programme in Europe amounts in most cases to around 1500-1800 hours per year and in those cases one credit stands for around 25 to 30 working hours. Sensibly, 30 credits correspond to a study semester and 20 credits to a study trimester. 

The University of Coimbra officially applied the ECTS to all its courses in December 2005 with the publication of the Regulation on the application of the course credit system (ECTS – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) to the courses of the University of Coimbra, in compliance with the Decree-law 42/2005, of February 22.

Diploma Supplement (DS)

The Diploma Supplement (DS) is a document to be issued to students by their higher education institutions on graduation. It aims to describe the qualification they have received in a standard format that is easy to understand and easy to compare. It also describes the content of the qualification and the structure of the higher education system within which it was issued. It is not a curriculum vitae and simply acts as a supplementary explanation of the qualification rather than a substitute for it.

By making it easier to compare qualifications gained in higher education systems across Europe, the Diploma Supplement attempts to facilitate mutual recognition of qualifications and thereby lead to greater transparency and mobility. It ties in closely with the Bologna Process objective to create a system of easily readable and comparable degrees.

The DS is a bilingual document issued free of charge by the higher education institution that awarded the diploma/ degree.

Learn more here.

The University of Coimbra issues the DS in Portuguese and English to all its graduates.

The national and European accreditation system

The accreditation of a study cycle consists in the verification of the compliance of the requirements that are necessary for a study cycle to be created and fully operational. In Portugal, this procedure is carried out by the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES).

The general requirements for the accreditation of a study cycle are:

- an education, scientific and cultural project adequate to the aims of the study cycle;

- qualified teaching staff;

- human and material resources necessary to ensure the level and quality of the programme, namely adequate education and research facilities, equipments, libraries and laboratories.

All study cycles of the University of Coimbra in operation are duly accredited by A3ES. A3ES is an affiliated member of ENQA.

The European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) was established in 2000 to promote European cooperation in the field of quality assurance (QA) in higher education. In 2004, it was changed into the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education but its acronym stayed the same (ENQA).

ENQA disseminates information on experience, good practice and new developments in the field of quality assessment and quality assurance in higher education to stakeholders, namely to public authorities, higher education institutions, students and quality assurance agencies.

It is opened to the Quality Assurance Agencies of the EU Member-States, which are part of the European Higher Education Area, such as Portugal.