European Higher Education Area

Education Quality Accreditation Commission





The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) allows teaching and learning to be easier to understand for any third party, and it facilitates the recognition of studies, academic quality, and educational accreditation both in the formal sector (official), as in non-formal or non-traditional education. This system is used in Europe for the transfer of credits (student mobility), and the accumulation of credits to complete a study program. ECTS credits also provides information on the design of said program and ensures its educational quality.


Institutions using ECTS credits should publish their course catalogs including detailed descriptions of the study programs offered, learning units, university regulations and student services. Each course should present its learning outcomes (what students expect to know, understand and be able to do after completing the course) and workloads (the time students typically require to achieve these learning outcomes) expressed in terms of credits (and hours of study). These data are key to establishing the level of quality and accreditation of any educational institution.


The transfer and accumulation of credits is facilitated through the use of a series of key documents as determined by the ECTS credits guidelines (the course catalogue, the learning contract, and the certification of hours and grades), as well as the Diploma Supplement. ECTS credits become a very useful instrument in decisions about the recognition of a degree, its academic quality, and they do facilitate accreditation in education. These decisions, however, remain under the final responsibility of the competent authorities: the professors participating in the student exchange, the officials of the admission offices, the counseling centers for validations, the officials or employees of the ministry of education, etc...


The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) intends to make current official validation procedures (homologations) unnecessary when education and training are offered according to ECTS credit guidelines.


Countries across Europe are increasingly emphasizing the need to consider how to establish quality and accreditation in education.


ECTS credits become the common language to attest education quality, academic recognition and accreditation.



What are ECTS credits used for?


The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a tool of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) to make educational qualifications and courses more transparent. ECTS credits help students when traveling between countries and also in getting their academic qualifications and periods of study recognized abroad.


The ECTS system makes it possible for credits earned at a higher education institution in one country or region to be accounted for a degree studied at another educational centre, country or region. ECTS credits present any training in terms of well-defined learning outcomes and the hours of study workload.


ECTS credits allows study programs to be more flexible for students. In addition, ECTS credits also facilitate the planning, delivery and evaluation of higher education programs. This fundamental tool of the Bologna process aims to make national education systems more internationally compatible. The ECTS system also helps to make other documents, such as the European Diploma Supplement, easier to be interpreted by any foreign countries.


ECTS has been adopted as the national educational credit system in most countries within the European Higher Education Area, they are increasingly considered outside the European Union.



Why are ECTS credits necessary?


Differences between national higher education systems can give rise to problems regarding the recognition of educational qualifications and periods of mobility abroad. This issue is addressed in part by improving the understanding of the learning outcomes and curriculum workload (hours of study).


The ECTS system also makes it possible to merge different types of learning, such as university training and work-based learning, in the same study program, or even from a lifelong learning perspective.



How do ECTS credits work?


60 ECTS credits are equivalent to a full year of study or work. In a traditional academic year, those 60 credits are typically divided into several smaller modules. Generally, a typical “short cycle degree” has between 90 and 120 ECTS credits; while a “first cycle” qualification (degree) consists of 180 or 240 ECTS credits (Bachelor's degree).


A "second cycle" degree (Master's degree) is equivalent to 90 to 120 ECTS credits. On the other hand, in the "third cycle" (Doctorate) the use of the ECTS system varies.


ECTS credits are applied to facilitate the mobility of students between higher education institutions. Catalogs following the ECTS guidelines present program curriculum, learning outcomes and academic certifications in a way that facilitates recognition and transfer of the credits earned by students during a period of mobility abroad. The ECTS User Guide published by the European Union describes this system and how it is used in more detail.



The ECTS Credits


ECTS credits are based on the workload students need in order to achieve expected learning outcomes. Learning outcomes describe what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to do after successful completion of a process of learning. They relate to level descriptors in national and European qualifications frameworks. Workload indicates the time students typically need to complete all learning activities (such as lectures, seminars, projects, practical work, self-study and examinations) required to achieve the expected learning outcomes.


1 ECTS ACADEMIC CREDIT = 25 to 30 hours of study work


60 ECTS credits are attached to the workload of a full-time year of formal learning (academic year) and the associated learning outcomes. In most cases, student workload ranges from 1.500 to 1.800 hours for an academic year, whereby one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of study work.


The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a tool which enables students to collect credits for learning achieved through higher education. ECTS is a learner-centred system which aims to increase transparency of learning outcomes and learning processes. It aims to facilitate planning, delivery, evaluation, recognition and validation of qualifications and units of learning as well as student mobility, education quality and accreditation. ECTS is widely used in formal higher education and can be applied to other lifelong learning activities and non-formal or non-traditional education.


ECTS credits are allocated to entire qualifications or study programmes as well as to their educational components (such as modules, course units, dissertation work, work placements and laboratory work). The number of credits ascribed to each component is based on its weight in terms of the workload students need in order to achieve the learning outcomes.


ECTS Credits are awarded to individual students (full-time or part-time) after completion of the learning activities required by a program of study or by a single educational component and the successful assessment of the achieved learning outcomes. Credits may be accumulated with a view to obtaining qualifications, as decided by the degree-awarding institution.


If students have achieved learning outcomes in other learning contexts or timeframes (formal, non-formal or informal), the associated credits may be awarded after successful assessment, validation or recognition of these learning outcomes. Credits awarded in one programme may be transferred into another programme, offered by the same or another institution.



Important Clarifications


The European Union does not have legislative powers in matters of education. The regulation of education in each member country is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education or designated body of that country.


The European Union defined ECTS credits as a desirable mechanism for the best mobility and transfer of students between diverse educational programs and the understanding and appreciation of the studies carried out. Before ECTS credits, the education systems in each European country were so different that the approvals and assessments of studies completed in one country were complex for other countries.


ECTS credits are a system used by European universities to validate subjects and, within the so-called Bologna process, to quantify the work related to the student working under the degrees sponsored by the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). 


The Ministers of Education of various European countries (both from the European Union and from other countries such as Russia or Turkey) commit themselves through the Bologna Declaration, signed in 1999, to transform their educational models and converge them according to the ECTS credit guidelines. The purpose of this convergence is to facilitate the exchange of graduates and adapt the content of university studies to social demands, improving their quality and competitiveness through greater transparency and understanding of what has been studied in each country.


The Bologna process is not a binding treaty and exclusively affects official education regulated by the ministries of education of each country. As a result of the Bologna process, the European Higher Education Area was created, an area to which countries joined and which would serve as a frame of reference for the educational reforms that many countries would initiate in the first years of the 21st century.


Non-regulated or non-formal education initiatives are not affected by the Bologna process, but by the legal regulations of their country. The European Higher Education Area has recognized the importance of these non-regulated or non-formal education initiatives in society and recommends the adaptation of ECTS credits for better understanding and acceptance of the training they provide. Every training system should have its equivalent in ECTS credits (abbreviation for European Credit Transfer System).


The use of ECTS credits does not imply the mandatory and automatic approval or acceptance of said credits by any institution or body. Each institution or educational program is free to accept and validate ECTS credits obtained in other institutions, however the fact that training is expressed in ECTS credits facilitates its understanding and potential recognition.


The EQAC certification for issuing ECTS credits

The Education Quality Accrediting Commission may certify the issuance of ECTS credits after verifying the equivalence in ECTS credits of any course or subject taught by educational institutions accredited or reviewed by EQAC. In order to qualify to certify ECTS credits for a course, subject or program, the educational institution must always demonstrate that the learning objectives and study hours of said training have been met. See more...


Get the EQAC certification if you are interested in issuing ECTS credits.




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