Higher Education for S3 in Portugal

While Portugal is a relatively small country, there is great diversify between its regions and its higher education landscape. Continental Portugal has strong intra and inter regional disparities.

Among  the  three  continental  regions classified as  less  developed  in  the  EU  Cohesion  Policy,  Norte  has  the highest number of HEIs and proportion of students, leading to a competition for ESIF, while Alentejo only has one university and two polytechnics, leading to problems in absorbing R&I funds. Lisbon, like many capital cities, is  in  the  paradoxical  position  of  having  the highest numbers  of  students  and  researchers  but  a  very  low allocation of ESIF, due to its status as a more developed region. Algarve is confronted by relatively low levels of research infrastructure and even less students per head of population than Alentejo but, because of its size and status as a transition region, it has a low ESIF allocation without the capital city benefits enjoyed by Lisbon. 

Finally, Centro  has  high  performing  HEIs, including  Coimbra, the oldest university in  Portugal,  and other important research actors, such as the internationally recognised Pedro Nunes Institute. The region prides itself on its symbolic capital in terms of knowledge and science  but, despite  these  achievements,  the impact on business and innovation is out of step with the global status of its universities. Norte and Centro have been the two most active Portuguese regions in promoting smart specialisation and developing international cooperation around S3 priorities.

Main conclusions and recommendations

  • The relationship between HEIs and S3 presents several challenges: lack of entrepreneurial culture, lack of articulation between OPs and between agents, lack of common understanding about what S3 is, excessive bureaucracy, relationship difficulties  between academia and companies, exclusive status and a career evaluation that puts many barriers to this cooperation.
  • A major problem for S3 is the qualitative leap that remains to be made, from identifying priority domains to building transformative activities that generate a related variety. HEIs play a fundamental role and are the privileged actor to teach and guide this process in the regions -with the knowledge they produce and the critical mass they have.
  • In terms of the ESIF, new and complementary instruments are needed to strengthen regional ecosystems, rather than investments only in research and education. The Portuguese government needs to find a way to support innovation intermediaries than span boundaries between higher education and the private sector, operating at a local and regional level.
  • Consolidate a continuous regionally embedded entrepreneurial discovery process to better define priorities and policy mixes.
  • Stimulate ecosystem services, in particular though the financing of dedicated teams in innovation bodies to support the development and animation/orchestration of collaborative transformative activities.
  • In terms of HEI, create new medium-term schemes for HEIs financing based in transformative project achievements.

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