The Portuguese government has a grant system in place which is based on both need and merit. There is a government-backed loan system. Additional indirect support is provide through tax relief for parents on educational expenses and through family allowances.
The basic government grant system is run by the DGES, the Direcção Geral do Ensino Superior. Application for a grant, or bolsa de estudo, is made at the university or place of study through the on-campus offices of either SAS (Serviços de Ação Social) or GAS (Gabinete de Ação Social). Grants are based on need, assessed by measuring the family income.
Applications for loans are supported by the university in which the student is enrolled, but provided by private banks, who conform to standards set down by the government.
Grants are on a sliding scale, with the minimum payment equal to the minimum annual fee charged by the majority of public-funded universities, so that in effect at that level the grant is a fee-relief programme. Based on family income the grants rise to a maximum of 5,677 €. Grants are paid in monthly instalments over the 10 months of the academic year. The family income is assessed by a disclosure of tax returns for all family members.
Tax relief is another way for effectively obtaining a grant. Since most students in Portugal live at home, their family can claim educational expenses of the student as a tax deduction. Family allowances are also given to parents with students who are full-time students. Students must be less than 24 years old and the family income must be less than 9,000 € and family assets less than 100,000 €. Most student’s families would probably not be eligible for a family allowance.
EU students resident in Portugal can apply for a grant and must be treated equal with Portuguese students. International students are generally not eligible, but students from Brazil are entitled to apply for the bolsa de estudo. They must have Portuguese residency and cannot work while receiving the grant.
Loans are available for between 1,000 and 5,000 € a year to a maximum of 25,000 €, from private lenders, usually banks. The support is not strictly from the government, although the government does guarantee 10% of the loan, but the scheme was established by the government as part of a wider loan scheme for small businesses. It uses a mutual guarantee system where the lender pays 0.5% of the loan amount into a guarantee fund which repays the lender in the event of default. Interest rates are low, being 1% above the Euro Interest Rate Swap and include a 0.35% commission for the mutual guarantee fund. Interest only is paid while the student is studying, and for a one year grace period at the end of studies. Then the loan must be repaid within ten years of graduation or twice the duration of the programme, whichever is the lesser time.
To be eligible for government programmes, students must be legal and regular residents of Portugal. EU citizens planning to apply for the scheme would therefore need to establish residence before applying. This is easily done under the freedom of movement provisions of the EU. EU regulations prevent Portugal from discriminating against a non-Portuguese EU citizen applying and receiving if eligible, a grant.
Non-EU students would need to be resident to be eligible for either a grant or a loan, so these are difficult for non-EU students to obtain. International students from Brazil can however qualify for the grant. International students can apply for student loans to study in Portugal, under the government scheme or under equivalent provisions.
The grant system, which is strictly limited by family income, is the primary grant system available to local, EU and eligible international students. 15% of students at Portuguese universities have some form of grant.
Less than 4% of students at Portuguese universities and other institutions of higher education have a student loan. Apart from the student-loan scheme, a private loan could in principle be obtained by a student, but it would usually need to be guaranteed by a party such as a parent with a credit record acceptable to the bank. It may also be necessary to provide security in the form of property for a private loan.