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Changes in higher education access policies during COVID-19: impact on equity

Considering the health situation that affected the world, created by the COVID-19 pandemic, exceptional and temporary educational measures were taken in Portugal in order to limit face-to-face teaching and non-teaching activities. Regarding secondary education, Decree-Law n. º 14-G/2020 of April 13, Article 8.º changed the regime of assessment, approval of subjects and completion of secondary education. Alongside, the pandemic forced closure of schools and distance learning, in an unprecedented period of lockdown. In this context, the IAVE (Institute for Educational Assessment), to minimize the potential effects of the lockdown on learning, changed the structure of national exams. All these changes had an impact, on the one hand, on the increase of the GPA and, on the other hand, on the number of higher education enrolments in the first year. According to DGES (Direção Geral do Ensino Superior), the number of higher education applicants in 2020 was the highest since 1996 (62,675 students) and in 2021 it continued to grow (63,878 students). This increase, which also reflected a greater participation of students in higher education, may represent more and better opportunities for students who would not enter higher education in non-exceptional circumstances.

The transition to distance learning, with its costs and benefits, extended to higher education. For many students, this teaching method has harmed the teaching and learning process and the development of essential skills for their future entry into the job market. This may have been an additional reason to add to others that has annually led students to drop out of higher education. For other students, it was a way of reducing the costs associated with accommodation or daily travel, making it even easier to attend classes, especially those students who divided their time between higher education and a professional activity. In these cases, higher education retention may have been favoured.

The main objective of this study is to assess the impact of this (temporary) change in access rules in the transition from secondary to higher education. The policy evaluation will be guided by the following research question: have the changes introduced in the access rules led to more equity in the transition from secondary to higher education?


  • Understand ways of apprehension – and strategies for mitigation – of school inequalities in a post-pandemic context;
  • Identify opportunities for teachers’ professional development, as well as, the appropriate working conditions to ensure their well-being and mental health;
  • Identify and analyze measures and actions implemented for the recovery and/or consolidation of learning, the monitoring of students and dropout prevention, and the evaluation of their learning outcomes.

Research Team


Carla Sá, NIPE, University of Minho

  • Período Date
    01.11.2022 - 31.10.2024
  • Financiamento Funding
    EDULOG: 60,320.74 EUR
  • Referência do Projeto Project Reference