In 1974, when a successful revolution had overthrown a dictatorial regime, Portugal had an elite higher education system with low participation rates. In the decades following the revolution, the state developed policies aimed at increasing student participation to European levels. However, higher education policies have been through frequent changes and adaptations as they were confronted by successive managing paradoxes and contradictions between political steering, social demand, economic relevance and institutional attitudes and reactions. This paper presents an analysis of the political drivers that justified and legitimised the changing policies of access to higher education.

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