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.
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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.
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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 1537.
In 2001, it was estimated that approx. 7.5% of the adult population were illiterate.
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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 PSD.
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 country.
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.