A master’s degree (mestrado in Portuguese) is an academic degree awarded to those who have undergone study and have demonstrated a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice, after graduation from university. Within that area, graduates must possess advanced knowledge of specialized theories and applied topics. They must also be highly skilled in analysis, critical evaluation or professional application, as well as be able to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently. In some languages, a master’s degree may also be called a magister, while someone who has the degree may also be called magister or cognate. Certain degrees, like engineer’s degrees, have various levels, named differently due to historical reasons.
In Europe, there has been a standardisation of conditions to deliver the master’s degrees and most countries present degrees in all disciplines, through the Bologna Process, of which Portugal is an adherent. In this system of higher education, meant to make degrees equivalent and recognizable across Europe and thus facilitate the movement of students between European countries, a master’s degree programme normally carries 90-120 ECTS credits, with a minimum requirement of at least 60 ECTS credits at master level (one- or two-year full-time postgraduate program) undertaken after at least three years of undergraduate studies. It provides higher qualification for employment or prepares for doctoral studies. With one ECTS credit being equivalent to 25 hours of study, this means that a master’s degree programme should include 2250 hours of study. Current U.K. master’s programmes tend to include 1800 hours of study (or 180 UK credits), although many claim to be equivalent to an ECTS accredited master degree.
Under the Bologna Process, an undergraduate degree of at least three years is called licence (licenciatura) or Bachelor’s degree ( old bacharelato, which was extinct), followed by a two-year diploma (rarely, one-year) called Master’s, then a Doctorate, meant to be obtained in (at least) 3 years. Because of these indicated schedules, the reform is sometimes referred to as 3-5-8.
Although the Bologna Process is still not fully implemented, under these initiatives and support from the European Union, Europe is unifying and standardizing, especially the structure of their Master’s programmes, making them more and more accessible to foreign students. Studying in Portugal generally means that achievements will be recognized back in the country of origin, or another European country, especially those conforming to the Bologna Process.
More specifically, in Portugal many courses now offer an Integrated Master’s Degree (Mestrado Integrado), where students undertake their 2-year master’s studies immediately after successfully completing the 3-year licenciatura. Teaching during master’s degree studies is usually done exclusively by teachers with a doctorate (doutoramento). Before completing their studies, students will be asked to elaborate a thesis. This thesis will then be presented to a group of examiners, usually 3-5 teachers, who will judge the student’s ability to work autonomously and provide quality work, while following the rules of research. If their thesis is judged favourably, students will have successfully finished their mestrado studies, and be awarded a diploma. As mentioned before, due to Portugal’s involvement in the Bologna Process, this diploma will be recognized in most of Europe.