It is in Barcarena, at the Fábrica da Pólvora, that one of the most emblematic university hubs in Oeiras is housed: Escola Universitária Atlântica.
Founded in 1996, it was in 2014 that the University invested in a repositioning strategy, focusing on new training areas (e.g. aeronautical engineering, engineering materials and production systems engineering) and training with a very strong practical element, reflecting the real concerns of the business world. At the same time, the University is investing in internationalisation and attracting international students.
The results of this new repositioning project speak for themselves: the courses at Atlântica have an employability rate of more than 90%. Natália Espírito Santo, the Managing Director of Universidade Atlântica, explains in an interview how the university has changed since its creation and describes a few of its pathways for the future.
“We like to train people for the labour market. Universidade Atlântica has always been concerned about making sure our courses are not just about putting “pen to paper” and has always been committed to very technical, very practical courses, with internships, high practicability courses so our students have a strong level of employability. And, fortunately, that has led to a 90% employability rate for all courses”, asserts the Managing Director of Universidade Atlântica, going on to indicate that some courses, like Nursing and Physiotherapy, have employability rates of 100%.
Natália Espírito Santo has been at Universidade Atlântica since its creation in 1996. But even today, more than 20 years later, there are elements of the university that continue to surprise her. “Sometimes, I get here in the morning and there are hares, partridges and ducks at the front door”, she recalls fondly. An uncommon phenomenon in urban locations, but it is a familiar and frequent sight for those studying or teaching at the university. This is because Universidade Atlântica is housed in the former Fábrica da Pólvora (although renovated), nestled in huge gardens crossed by a stream. The atmosphere here is very different to other university campuses. Natália Espírito Santo explains why: “Professor Afonso de Barros was the first Chancellor of Universidade Atlântica and the idea was to create a university campus in the image of British campuses, with lots of green spaces. The campus was initially planned to be built in Cascais, but the Mayor at the time did not welcome this prospect. It was then that Dr. Isaltino Morais, not only welcomed, allocating the space at the former Fábrica da Pólvora, but also gave the university its name”, she explains.
And so Universidade Atlântica was born, in the 1990s with just four courses: environmental management, urban land management, strategic management and information technology systems management. In 2001, Universidade Atlântica created Escola Superior de Saúde Atlântica, specialising in Health, currently offering courses in nursing; physiotherapy; nutrition sciences and osteopathy.
The crisis and rebirth of Universidade Atlântica
The financial crisis that afflicted Portugal was also felt by the university. However, the 2014 arrival of a new investor into the Universidade Atlântica shareholder structure (Carbures, one of the main suppliers of Airbus and Boeing, and that currently forms part of Airtificial), paved the way for a new era at the university
The arrival of Carbures into the university’s shareholder structure allowed the Spanish aeronautical firm to train its own staff, recruit highly qualified professionals and perform research on behalf of the company. Universidade Atlântica was also repositioned on the market, with the creation of new departments. The core business now focused on engineering, in particular aeronautical engineering, engineering materials; production systems engineering, in particular for the aeronautics industry. “We became part of the Portuguese aeronautics cluster and part of international research projects in the field of aeronautics”, asserts the Managing Director of Universidade Atlântica.
And are professionals in these areas in demand? Natália Espírito Santo says this is definitely the case. “It’s an industry that is clearly expanding. Analysing the statistical data published by the AED (aeronautics cluster), it can be seen that almost 15,000 aeronautical engineers and materials engineers will be needed by 2030. Thousands of pilots and cabin crew will be needed. And in Portugal, there are not enough professionals to satisfy this demand. Boeing itself says that it is unable to grow in Portugal in some sectors as there are not enough qualified professionals”.
However, training at Universidade Atlântica is not limited to this area. In addition to Engineering and the Health School, the university is also committed to innovative areas such as artificial intelligence, data science, big data and cyber security.
What makes Universidade Atlântica stand out?
Following the process to reposition the institution, Universidade Atlântica committed to a differentiating strategy, both in terms of areas of training and the approach to education.
“We have a teaching staff that is very close to our students and that follows, in addition to other methods, Project Based Learning and Problem Oriented Learning. Our professors are academic, but they also have connections to the business world. This means that often, they bring problems from the corporate world to Universidade Atlântica and students resolve them internally, learning as they do”, explains Natália Espírito Santo, providing a number of examples. “Galucho sent us around 12 employees to participate in refresher training. We ended up opening an evening course just for them. It was this group that we created the 1st undergraduate class in engineering materials. The theses of this group were linked to the company itself”.
This approach, promoting a close relationship between academia and the corporate world is also catalysed by the fact that Universidade Atlântica is located within the Oeiras Valley ecosystem, close to business and technology parks like Lagoas Park and Taguspark. “In recent years, we have established a number of partnerships with firms and parks in the municipality, not just to promote Universidade Atlântica but also to establish synergies”, reports the Institute’s Managing Director.
The commitment to internationalisation is another distinguishing factor; the university has several partnerships in place with international institutions that helps attract international students to Barcarena. “On the Physiotherapy course, we have more than 100 French students and 60 Spanish students. We have 20 Italian students on the Marketing course and Engineering Materials We also have a student from Gambia and another from Tanzania studying for degrees in the IT Department. We have students from Hebron on the Master’s in ITSM, Brazilian students on the Master’s in Management, and many other students from Cape Verde and Angola”, highlights Natália Espírito Santo.
The Future of Private Universities
Internationalisation is, in the words of the university’s Managing Director, a pathway for the future of private universities. “In five years, students will no longer occupy all spots at public universities”. Therefore, to survive, the private sector will need to commit to niche areas and trends that private universities, on account of their more cumbersome structures, are unable to explore. “The future of private universities will be reliant on committing to niche training that is not available at public universities, committing to students aged over 23 (in terms of evening education, as not all public universities want to invest in this segment) and committing to international markets”, asserts the Managing Director at Universidade Atlântica.
Universidade Atlântica in numbers
- 1996 – Creation of Universidade Atlântica
- 1200 students
- 7 undergraduate degrees
- 4 Master’s degrees
- 18 postgraduate courses (8 postgraduate courses in business sciences, 4 postgraduate courses in engineering; 3 postgraduate courses in health and 3 in information technology and systems). More information on postgraduate courses available here.