“The University of Coimbra adopts an approach of sustainable management of its activities and resources and of social responsibility in its actions.”


TBY talks to João Calvão da Silva, Vice-Chancellor at Universidade de Coimbra and President of the Board at AULP, about UNESCO recognition, sustainability, and international links.
Can you give us an overview of: the university’s academic focus, size, and identity?

With more than 25000 students, the University of Coimbra – founded in 1290 – is one of the Portuguese universities that most foreigners attract under Erasmus+ Program and a reference in the Portuguese-speaking world. In these countries (more than 250 million inhabitants), UC is considered the Alma Mater of Portuguese language, a role which contributed to being listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site (2013). Our intense cooperation with these countries gives access to networks that can provide significant opportunities for European research and education engagement. Besides having about 20% of foreign students every year, UC is also an important tourism destination, with half a million tourists every year, contributing to expertise in sharing of academic heritage buildings to a wider audience and in the preservation and sustainability of these heavily used spaces.

It is 10 years since the UNESCO world heritage recognition. What is the special link of the university with the history of Portugal and Coimbra?

One of the Oldest Universities in Europe and the Only University in Portugal Until 1911. The university reformation dating back to King John III and the consequent and definite transference to Coimbra promoted the development of an educational pole able to host the significant flux of students and to promote the continuous award of academic diplomas. The University that occupies a Royal Palace, i.e., the oldest nucleus of the University of Coimbra is located in the set of the Schools Courtyard, and it essentially corresponds to the ancient royal address of the country, the former Royal Palace of Coimbra. Its continuous use, for five centuries prior to the settlement of the University, with a continuous consolidation and constructive evolution, make of it a singular and outstanding building in the European context of university architecture. The University of the consolidation, dissemination, and expansion of the Portuguese language, as the only Portuguese university, Coimbra has become, throughout the centuries, an important cultural pole. The educated linguistic norm of this city had a strong influence over its students, who would later influence the people from other geographical areas. The university is also important for it was the place where many of the important names of the national literature studied. The role of the University in the formation of the Portuguese state – The University of Coimbra, responsible for the education of the main Portuguese managing elite, was one of the main and most energizing institutions to take part in the ideological formation of the Portuguese State throughout the centuries. Considered the “political thermometer” of the country, the university accompanied the political and social convulsions of the country, balancing from support manifestations of support of the ruling regimes to its opposition.

Most sustainable university in Portugal. What campaigns and university practices form the backbone of the university’s sustainability strategy?

The University of Coimbra adopts an approach of sustainable management of its activities and resources and of social responsibility in its actions. Sustainability and Social Responsibility represent cross-cutting attitudes, behaviors and actions in the UC which fit and are always present in its activity. Nevertheless, two dimensions are made autonomous, which, due to their relevance and their emergence in the current context, determine a firm commitment to the sustainable development and human rights: Environment & Climate Action – Developing an environmental sustainability strategy that enables the University of Coimbra to be the first Portuguese university to achieve carbon neutrality and make academic community aware of the impact of behavior change on the fight against climate change – and Citizenship, Equality & Inclusiveness – Promoting active, enlightened, socially responsible and inclusive citizenship, by preserving the right to have rights, respecting dignity, equality and the right to difference, so that everyone can reach their potential, in a collective formulation of common goals and challenges.

To what do you attribute the strength of Portugal as a destination for higher education?

Portugal is a country that offers security and quality of life, with an excellent geographical location and a mild temperature throughout the year. Portugal has a friendly population that likes to welcome and receive. Coimbra is a historical city, situated in the center of the country, with a very peculiar experience in which academic and city life are very closely connected, making the experience of studying here something unique and unforgettable for those who study here.

Which facts and figures demonstrate the university’s international reach?

In terms of internationalization the data speak for themselves, we have strongly recovered from the pandemic. In 2022, we had a total of 893 outgoing mobilities and 1684 incoming mobilities. To this data, we must add the students under the International Student Statute, in a total of 862 students, many of whom are Brazilian.

What is the strategy to heighten links with Portuguese-language universities around the world?

The University of Coimbra is considered the Alma Mater of Portuguese-speaking universities and in this awareness, we are proud to chair the board of AULP in this three-year term. We highlight, as an example, the activity of Sino-Lusophone Academy of the University of Coimbra (ASL-UC), a special project of the Rectory dedicated to strengthening its ties with the Portuguese-speaking world and with the People’s Republic of China institutions. The Sino-Lusophone Academy has the mission of promoting, in the University of Coimbra, the development of relevant knowledge concerning the relations between China, Portugal and the Portuguese Speaking Countries, with a primary focus on Law, but open to all fields of knowledge, and transferring that knowledge to the parties interested in the strengthening and consolidation of those relations. It was formally established at the of the year 2018 and officially inaugurated in June 2019. Since then, within its scope, two China Studies’ Centers were established (with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Beijing Foreign Studies Universities), that have organized several international meetings, short online courses, and seminars. Most notably, the Sino-Lusophone Academy has been putting great emphasis in the development of the links with the Portuguese-speaking Countries, not only through the co-organization of conferences, but also having organized several custom-made courses at the request of public institutions, like the Attorney General’s Office of Angola and Mozambique, the National Electoral Commission of Mozambique and for Magistrates and Senior Officials of public institutions of East-Timor (PFMO project).

O Presidente da AULP, Professor João Nuno Calvão da Silva foi entrevistado pela Revista The Business Year