Through its Office of Research and Analysis, A3ES is responsible for conducting studies and analyses within the area of quality assurance of higher education. As part of this process, the A3ES is undertaking, or has completed, the following studies and projects:


Erasmus+ Project (Erasmus+ KA2 programme): Structured indicators to manage HEI Quality Systems - SMART-QUAL

Coordinated by CONNEX-EU (Belgium) and with the participation of 8 more European organizations in the field of higher education, quality assurance and innovative cooperation, including A3ES, the aim of the project is to define a set of harmonized Quality Indicators at European level to measure, monitor and assess higher education institutions (HEIs) main processes (learning and teaching; research; and relations with the society). For more information on the project, please go to:


Access, success and failure. Student routes in Higher Education.

This project aims to analyse the data for 1st cycle students, enrolled for the first time in the participating universities: Universidade de Évora, Universidade de Lisboa, Universidade do Minho and Universidade do Porto.


Learning Outcomes. From implementation to assessment, from a treble vision of learning outcomes: HEIs, students and employers.

This research aims to contribute to the evaluation of and reflection about the level of implementation, materialisation and assessment of learning outcomes by Portuguese HEIs.


Mobility patterns of higher education students

The project intends to determine the characteristics of the networks obtained by analysing the mobility patterns of students in the national territory; the determinants of the mobility of higher education students; the impact of recent changes to legislation on the identified student mobility patterns; the impact of structural changes to the higher education network; and, at last, how changes in the allocation of places may change the identified patterns and how  demographic changes may promote the reconfiguration of the network or the change (or not) of the identified patterns.


Project Erasmus+ (KA 3 Database of External Quality Assurance Reports (DEQAR)), coordinated by EQAR.

The database will allow users to identify a very large number of higher education institutions which were quality assessed by an agency registered in EQAR (either at institutional level or at programme level, i.e. one or more of its study programmes) and to have easy access to the review reports. Link to project.


Project Erasmus+ (KA 2 Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education), “MEHR – Modernity, Education and Human Rights”, coordinated by the Swedish Agency UKÄ (2016/18)

The project will focus on the assessment of Learning Outcomes. The aim of the project is to reinforce higher education on human rights in areas such as medicine, social work, teacher training, geography and engineering, thus allowing professionals working in these areas to be better trained to promote human rights in their daily practice. Portugal will lead the project in those areas focusing on migrations and on capacities and intercultural competencies in education on geography and law. Check report.


A3ES joined project EIQAS - Enhancing Internal Quality Assurance Systems – NEW

A3ES joined the Erasmus+ european project EIQAS - Enhancing Internal Quality Assurance Systems, coordinated by the polish agency, Polska Komisja Akredytacyjna (PKA). The project is sponsored by Key Action 2 (KA2), Strategic Partnerships in Higher Education. The portuguese partners are A3ES – Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education, CRUP - Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities and UM - University of Minho.


Indicators on employability. A study on the measurement of employability in higher education

This project aims to make an inventory and to systematize practices regarding measurement of employability and the corresponding methodologies used by higher education institutions or other bodies. It makes a critical analysis of these methods and proposes a methodology for measuring employability to be applied transversally for all study programmes and institutions.


Implementation of internal quality assurance systems in higher education in Portugal

The project aims to assess the degree of implementation of the standards for certification of internal quality assurance systems in higher education institutions in Portugal. The results of this study will inform not only A3ES concerning its performance in this area, but will also provide useful information for institutions, which may receive a diagnosis of their situation and may compare themselves with other similar institutions.

The study will employ a quantitative methodology, using a questionnaire addressed to all higher education teachers in Portugal. The intention is to discover how far teachers agree with the principles of the quality standards and their perceptions of how well the various norms have been implemented in their organic unit and/or higher education institution.

Customized reports will be prepared for each organic unit and each higher education institution, and a global report will also be produced. The global report will analyse the data by groups: university vs. polytechnic, public vs. private, areas of education and training, scientific areas, professional category of the respondent, the respondent's involvement in management and involvement of the respondent in quality management activities.


Academics in the Portuguese higher education system 

This project aims to characterise the teaching staff of Portuguese higher education institutions, including a regional distribution by subsystem (university/polytechnic, public/private), by subject area (with particular reference to the strengths and weaknesses) and by gender, and it also characterises their areas of activity.

The analysis will be based on building a database of teachers in the different subsystems (public/private, university/polytechnic). These teachers will be characterised ​​according to information in their CVs (A3ES database) and to the contents of the cover page of each quality assessment process for each one the organic units.


International project - IBAR

The 2005 adoption of the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) created new dynamics in the area of quality assurance policies. Until now, research has focused on national quality assurance agencies, but not at institutional level and has ignored the extension to secondary education and the development of a theoretical basis.

The project aims to eliminate this gap in the empirical and theoretical knowledge as follows: (i) by identifying barriers to implementation of ESG at institutional level (i.e. ESG Part 1) and producing relevant recommendations for modification of the ESG Part 1; (ii) by identifying the extent to which the implementation of the ESG Part 1 has an impact on relations between the secondary and higher education sectors.

The theory of the implementation deficit will be used as a basis for this work,  which will be done  through  research using a sample of 28 HEIs in 7 European countries (CZ, GB, LV, PT, PL, SK, NL) and subsequent comparative analysis.

The results of this project will contribute to the development of policies in the field of quality assurance, with special emphasis on facilitating the implementation of ESG Part 1 for ENQA (and associates), HEI’s managers, directors of secondary schools, ministries of education and interested partners from the research community. 

The A3ES participates in this project to analyse the ESG through its association with CIPES. The project, to be completed in late 2013, is funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the General Directorate for Education and Culture of the European Union. The following countries are participating in the project: Portugal, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, The Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and Slovakia.


Tavares, O., Cardoso, S., Sin, C. (2013), Mapping Portuguese institutional policies on access against the European Standards and Guidelines, in Brankovic, J., Klemencic, M., Lazetic, P., and Pavel Z. (Eds) Global Challenges, Local Responses in Higher Education. The contemporary issues in national and comparative perspective, Sense series "Higher Education Research in the 21st Century".  Accepted for publication.

Sin C, Manatos MJ (2013). Student assessment in Portugal: academic practices and Bologna policy. Higher Education Policy. Accepted for publication.

Sarrico, C.S., Veiga, A. and Amaral, A. (2013). Quality, Management and Governance in European Higher Education Institutions. European Higher Education Area.  Accepted for publication.

Sarrico, C.S., Veiga, A. and Amaral, A. (2013). The long road – how evolving institutional governance mechanisms are changing the face of quality in Portuguese higher education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability.  Accepted for publication.

Rosa, M.J., Teixeira, P. (2013) Policy Reforms, Trojan Horses, and Imaginary Friends: The Role of External Stakeholders in Internal Quality Assurance Systems. Higher Education Policy. Accepted for publication.


International project – JOQAR – Joint programmes: Quality assurance and recognition of degrees awarded 

This project is an initiative of the ECA - European Consortium for Accreditation and is funded by the European Commission. The aim of this project is to guarantee that Erasmus Mundus study programmes (and also joint study programmes in general) are streamlined into two specific areas: accreditation and recognition. The partnership that is undertaking the project includes quality/accreditation agencies and recognition bodies (ENIC-NARICs).


Application of Cultural Theory to the Impact of Assessment Processes - Completed

Frederiks, Westerheijden and Weusthof used Child’s contingency analysis and the methodology of political economy to explain the differences in the use of assessment results by individuals or groups belonging to higher education organisations, concluding that their undertaking had been partially successful.

This approach considers that the different attitudes of higher education institutions are strongly determined by their culture, namely by the different cultures of universities and scientific areas. The cultural theory of Mary Douglas is used to interpret the results.

The project consists of an analysis of a set of two-part questionnaires, in which the first part situates the respondent in one of the cultural groups and the second part determines how far belonging to a cultural group determines his/her position in relation to quality processes.


Amaral, A., Rovio-Johansson, A., Rosa, M.J., Westerheijden, D. (2008). Essays on Supportive Peer Review. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Stensaker, B., Välimaa, J. and Sarrico, C. (Eds) (2012), Managing Reform in Universities. The Dynamics of Culture, Identity and Organizational Change, Chippenham and Eastbourne, Palgrave McMillan.

Amaral, A., Rosa, M.J., Tavares, D.A. (2009). Supra-national Accreditation, Trust and Institutional Autonomy: Contrasting Developments of Accreditation in Europe and the United States, Higher Education Management and Policy, 21.3, pp. 23-40.

Tavares, D.A., Rosa, M.J., Amaral, A. (2010). Does the EUA Institutional Evaluation Programme Contribute to Quality Improvement? Quality Assurance in Education, 18.3, pp. 178-190.

Amaral, A. and Rosa, M.J. (2010), Recent Trends in Quality Assurance, Quality in Higher Education, 16.1, pp. 59-61.

Amaral, A., (2010), Impacto del asegureamiento de le calidad en la eficacia formativa. In Calidad de los egresados, responsabilidad institucional ineludible, International Seminar, Santiago de Chile,  37-48.

Sarrico, C., Rosa, M., Teixeira, P. and Cardoso, M. (2010), Assessing Quality and Evaluating Performance in Higher Education: Worlds apart or complementary views? Minerva, 48, pp. 35-54.

Cardoso, S., Rosa, M.J., Tavares, D.A., Amaral, A. (2011). Increasing Role of Market Forces in HE: Is The EUA Institutional Evaluation Programme Playing a Role? In P. N. Teixeira and D.D. Dill (Eds), Public Vices, Private Virtues? Assessing the Effects of Marketization in Higher Education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Amaral, A., Rosa, M.J. (2011). Trans-National Accountability Initiatives: The case of the EUA Audits. In B. Stensaker and L. Harvey (Eds), Accountability in Higher Education. Global Perspectives on Trust and Power. UK: Routledge.

Veiga, A., Rosa, M. J., Amaral, A. (2011), “Understanding the impacts of quality assessment: an explanatory use of cultural theory”, Quality in Higher Education, Vol. 17, nº 1, pp. 53-57.

Rosa, M.J., Cardoso, S., Dias, D., Amaral, A. (2011). The EUA Institutional Evaluation Programme: an account of institutional best practices, Quality in Higher Education, 17(3), 369-386.

Sarrico, C.S. and Melo, A.I. (2012). Let the devil choose: frustration or anxiety in the wake of performance measurement in universities. In B. Stensaker, J. Valimaa and C.S. Sarrico (Eds.), Managing reform in universities: The dynamics of culture, identity and organizational change. Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Rosa, M.J. and Amaral, A. (2012) Is there a bridge between quailty and quality assurance?, in Stensaker, B., Välimaa, J. and Sarrico, C. (2012) Managing Reform in Universities. The Dynamics of Culture, Identity and Organizational Change, Chippenham and Eastbourne, Palgrave McMillan, pp. 114-134.

Cardoso, C.S. (2012). Students perceptions of quality – is there an option besides treating them as consumers? In B. Stensaker, J. Valimaa and C.S. Sarrico (Eds.), Managing Reform in Universities: the dynamics of culture, identity and organizational change. Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Rosa, M.J. and Sarrico, C. (2012). Quality, Evaluation and Accreditation: from Steering, Through Compliance, on to Enhancement and Innovation? In G. Neave and A. Amaral, Higher Education in Portugal 1974–2009: A Nation, a Generation (249-264). Dordrecht: Springer.

Rosa, M.J., Sarrico, C. and Amaral, A. (2012), “Implementing Quality Management Systems in Higher Education Institutions”, in Savsar, M. (ed.), Quality Assurance and Management, Croatia, INTECH.

Amaral, A. (2012), “Foreword”, in Neave, G., The Evaluative State, Institutional Autonomy and Re-engineering Higher Education in Western Europe – The Prince and His Pleasure, Chippenham and Eastbourne, pp. ix-xiii.

Rosa, M.J., Sarrico, C. and Amaral, A. (2012), “Academics’ perceptions on the purposes of quality assessment”, Quality in Higher Education, 18.3, pp. 349–366.

Cardoso, S., Santiago, R. and Sarrico, C.S. (2012). The impact of quality assessment in universities: Portuguese students’ perceptions, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 34.2, pp. 125-138.

Cardoso, S., Rosa, M.J. and Santos, C.S. (2013) Different Academics’ Characteristics, Different Perceptions on Quality Assessment? Quality Assurance in Education, 21.1, pp. 96 - 117.

Veiga, A., Rosa, M. J., Dias, D., Amaral, A. (2013). “Why is it difficult to grasp the impacts of the Portuguese quality assurance system?" European Journal of Education, (accepted for publication).

Westerheijden, D.F., Stensaker, B., Rosa, M.J., Corbett, A. (forthcoming). Next Generations, Catwalks, Random Walks and Arms Races: Conceptualising the Development of Quality Assurance Schemes, European Journal of Education (accepted for publication).


Employability and higher education in Portugal - Completed

Five years after the widespread adoption of the Bologna Process in the higher education system in Portugal, it is important to discover whether the primary objective of achieving employability has been attained. Here it is essential to find answers to some questions for which we do not yet have sufficient data, for example:

  1. What are the implications of the Bologna Process in the evolution of the number of graduates in each study programme and in each one of the sub-systems of education?
  2. Which training areas and sectors of activity have been most strongly affected, either positively or negatively, by the coming into effect of the new models of study programmes?
  3. What are the consequences of a reduction in the duration of the 1st cycle programmes, in most scientific areas, in terms of entering the labour market and in terms of professional practice?
  4. What is the degree of mobility between institutions and scientific areas when students move from one study programme to another?
  5. In order for higher education institutions not to fail to take into account the objectives of their educational mission, and for employers to recruit the human resources they need, how is it possible to establish forms of relationship that allow them both to achieve their aims? (How is it possible to find a compromise between the mission of HEIs and the requirements of the employers regarding human resources, which satisfies both parties?)


Cardoso, J.L., Escária, V., Ferreira, V.S., Madruga, P., Raimundo, A. and Varanda, M. (2012), Empregabilidade e Ensino Superior em Portugal, A3ES Readings, n.º 3, Lisbon: A3ES.


The network of higher education in Portugal - Completed

The study of the higher education network in Portugal includes two components: a critical analysis and characterization of the current situation, in the form of a quasi-diagnosis, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and also a component of planning or intervention regarding support policies for the sector, with the development of prospective scenarios and identification of goals or the vision of the network, in the short and medium term.

The study involves four main articulated axes, with the results of each one of them being incorporated in all of the others, in a process of continuous feedback and looping:

  1. Characterization of the typology of higher education institutions;
  2. Characterization of human resources - teaching staff - and of scientific research supporting the development of higher education;
  3. Characterization of access;
  4. Territorial patterns.


Fonseca, M.P. and Encarnação, S. (2012), O Sistema de Ensino Superior em Portugal em Mapas e em Números, A3ES Readings, N.º 4, Lisboa: A3ES. (The Higher Education System in Portugal in Graphs and Numbers)

Fonseca, M.P. and Encarnação, S. (2012), O Sistema de Ensino Superior. Perfis Institucionais: As Universidades Públicas, A3ES Readings, N.º 5, Lisboa: A3ES. (The Higher Education System. Institutional Profiles: Public Universities)

Fonseca, M.P. and Encarnação, S. (2012), O Sistema de Ensino Superior. Perfis Institucionais: Institutos Politécnicos Públicos, N.º 6, Lisboa: A3ES. (The Higher Education System. Institutional Profiles: Public Polytechnics)


Recent trends in Portuguese higher education - Completed

The main objective of this project was to identify some trends in recent developments in higher education in Portugal. Three aspects of the issue were identified.

First, there is a detailed description of the available places and applicants in higher education, taking into account the existing university and polytechnic subsystems, as well as the public and private sectors.

Second, the special entry conditions for students over 23 are addressed. This is a significant mode of entry to higher education, on which the total number of places filled at the various institutions seems to depend. Once again supply and demand indicators are presented and both subsystems and both sectors will be analysed.

Third, there is a study of the geographic mobility of 1st phase candidates (based on their first choices) and of those enrolled in all three phases of the national applications process  looking at the regions of origin of the applicants and the regions where the selected higher education institutions are situated. Two different perspectives are used. First, the recruitment area of each institution is characterized, in an attempt to understand if the potential recruitment area (determined by the first choices of 1st phase candidates) and the actual one (determined by the institutions where the students register) are of a more local or national nature. Second, for each region of origin, an attempt is made to characterize the concentration of both applicants and students enrolled in specific higher education institutions.


Sá, C., Dias, D. e Tavares, O. (2013), Tendências Recentes no Ensino Superior Português em Mapas e em Números, N.º 7, Lisboa: A3ES. 


Teaching efficiency and employability - Completed

The aim is to provide an overview of the Portuguese higher education system regarding the main aspects of internal and external efficiency. The first part of the study addresses the component of teaching efficiency (Sarrico et al. 2009; Sarrico et al. 2010; Teixeira et al., 2007), with the aim of identifying factors that may explain it, taking into account the scientific area and the sub-sector of higher education (university and polytechnic) separately.

The second part of the study addresses the aspect of external efficiency by analysing employability as another of the major outcomes of higher education. The objectives of the study are, like those defined for the first part, to find explanatory factors regarding employability, using data obtained through the process of preliminary accreditation of study programmes in operation, as well as official statistics produced by the Employment and Professional Training Institute (IEFP) regarding the employability of graduates.

An attempt is made in the study to identify possible important differences between the sub-sectors (polytechnic and university) that comprise the Portuguese higher education system, and at the level of the different scientific areas. The analysis will also take into account the different regimes in which they function.


Sarrico, C., Rosa, M.J., Teixeira, P., Machado, I. and Biscaia, R. (2013), A Eficiência Formativa e a Empregabilidade no Ensino Superior Português, N.º 8, Lisboa: A3ES.