Since 1974 there has been a strong expansion of
education. A comprehensive law on education was passed in
1986 and revised in 1997. A number of reforms of the
education system were implemented in the 1990s.
There is a 9-year compulsory and free schooling. The
primary school is divided into three parts (4 + 2 + 3
years). The high school is a 3-year-old, and students can
choose between general, theoretical subjects and more
practical subjects. About. 84% of young people continue
school after primary school. About. 50% of young people
start in higher education. See TOPSCHOOLSINTHEUSA for TOEFL, ACT, SAT testing locations and high school codes in Portugal.
There has been a strong growth in higher education since
the 1980s. There are both public and private universities
and colleges. The first private universities came in the
latter half of the 1980s, and private institutions now
comprise approx. 30% of the higher education institutions.
The country's oldest university was founded in 1290 in
Lisbon. It was later moved and has been in Coimbra since
In 2001, it was estimated that approx. 7.5% of the adult
population were illiterate.
In March 96, the socialist Jorge Sampaio was inaugurated
as president after winning the election with 54% of the vote
- against 46% for former prime minister Cavaco Silva. The
government initiated an economic policy to ensure that the
country fulfilled the requirements for participation in
EMU's third phase. In particular, the policy focused on
reducing the state's budget deficit.
At the same time, the government was fighting the
extensive tax evasion, which allowed for increased
appropriations for health, education and social areas. The
privatization program intensified with the sale of state
shares in telecommunications, electricity and roads.
Unemployment fell to 6.7%. The Socialist Party won the
municipal elections in December 1997. It retained control of
the country's two largest cities - Lisbon and Oporto - and
gained 38.2% of the vote nationwide against the 33.1% of the
In February 98, Parliament passed an abortion law that
paved the way for voluntary abortion until the 10th week of
pregnancy. Acc. various assessments were carried out at this
time annually around 16,000 illegal abortions in the
After 442 years of rule, on December 20, 1999, Portugal
handed over the island of Macao to China. President Sampaio
was present at the ceremony with his Chinese counterpart
Jiang Zemin. The ceremony also marks Portugal's final
cessation as colonial power and the abandonment of the last
European control in Asia. Portugal was the first European
power to conquer Asia and became the last to abandon it.
In February 2000, Sampaio visited East Timor's liberation
leader, Xanana Gusmão, and promised the Timorese Portuguese
assistance to build the country's education system. This was
the first Portuguese state visit after Portugal withdrew
from East Timor in 1974.
Prime Minister Antonio Guterres stood in the first half
of 2000 as head of the EU. Under his leadership, the EU took
steps towards diplomatic isolation of Austria when the
Austrian xenophobic Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider, was
admitted into the Austrian government.
Sampaio reaffirmed his popularity in the population when
he was re-elected in April 2001. The elections also
confirmed the control of the socialists.
In December, Alqueva inaugurated the hydroelectric
project across the Guadiana River. The project has created
Europe's largest lake and was condemned by several
environmental groups who considered it too large,
devastating and redundant. Although the project provides
irrigation water to the dry southern part of the country, it
also floods important fauna areas and 160 rocks with
inscriptions from the Stone Age. The Alqueva dam dates back
to the Oliveira Salazar dictatorship in 1957. Country
politicians argued that the dam was necessary to irrigate
the southern part of the water, but environmental groups
objected to the fact that only 48% of irrigated areas are
suitable for cultivation or pastures. The environmental
group Quercus pleaded for the water level to be raised only
139 m instead of the planned 152 m, in order to save trees.
The difficult financial situation repeatedly led Guterres
to transform his government. The economic situation and the
ongoing accusations of corruption in the Socialist Party
caused him to lose popularity, and after a severe defeat in
the local elections in December 2001, he resigned and
Parliament was dissolved.
The elections were speeded up and in March 2002 the
Conservative Social Democrat Manuel Durão Barroso won. He
formed a center-right government, and in his tenure as prime
minister he promised to lower corporate taxes, reduce
government spending and privatize a number of public sectors
- including the health care system.
Investigative journalists discovered in late 2002 a
network that sexually exploited children and made them
available to diplomats, politicians, athletes and
journalists. The network had existed for more than two
decades with the state's knowledge, since the abused
children lived in Casa Pía, the most important Portuguese
institution that cares for orphans. The study revealed that
at least 128 children had been sexually abused. At the end
of 2003, 10 people were detained in the case, including
Carlos Cruz, a prominent Portuguese TV journalist, Jorge
Ritto who is a former Portuguese ambassador to South Africa
and Carlos "Bibi" Silvino, a driver at Casa Pía, who became
charged with 35 sexual assaults.
Forest fires destroyed about 215,000 hectares of forest
in August 2003. The ecological disaster will affect the land
and water in the country for many years to come.