What is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System?
The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is an instrument of the European Higher Education Area for making studies and courses more transparent. ECTS helps students move between countries and obtain recognition of their academic qualifications and study periods abroad.
The system allows for credits taken at a higher education institution to be counted towards obtaining qualification at another. ECTS credits represent an education based on concrete learning outcomes and the respective study load.
ECTS enhances the flexibility of study programs for students and supports the planning, implementation, and evaluation of higher education programs. It is a central instrument in the Bologna Process, which aims to make national education systems more internationally comparable. ECTS also further clarifies and facilitates the use of other documents, such as the Diploma Supplement, in different countries.
Most of the countries in the European Higher Education Area have adopted ECTS as the national credit system, while its adoption is on the rise elsewhere.
Differences between national higher education systems can lead to problems concerning the recognition of qualifications and mobility periods abroad. ECTS enables a blend of different learning styles, such as learning within the context of a polytechnic institute and the workplace or within the framework of the same program of studies or through lifelong learning.
ECTS makes it easier to understand and compare study programs. It can apply to all types of courses and contexts of lifelong learning. It applies to both students in general and mobility students in terms of accumulating credits within an institution and transferring credits between institutions.
ECTS helps students move between countries or within a country, city, or region as well as between different types of institutions. It can even extend to independent studies and professional experience. For all these reasons, the well-known acronym “ECTS” now refers to the “European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.”
ECTS is closely related to the modernization of higher education in Europe. It constitutes a central instrument under the Bologna Process that aims to create more compatible national systems.
The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a student-centered system based on the volume of work required of the student to meet the objectives of a particular program of study. These objectives are defined preferentially in terms of learning outcomes and skills.
ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits correspond to the total study load of a full-time student. In Europe, this load represents between 1500 and 1800 hours per year, and in these cases, one credit corresponds to 25-30 hours of work. As a general rule, one semester of studies will correspond to 30 credits, and one academic term or trimester will be equivalent to 20 credits.
A full year of study or work is equivalent to 60 ECTS credits. In a standard academic year, these credits are generally broken down into several smaller modules. A typical “short-cycle qualification” includes 90-120 ECTS credits. A “first-cycle” (Licentiate) degree consists of 180 ECTS in Polytechnic higher education programs.
A “second-cycle” (or master’s) degree usually corresponds to 90 or 120 ECTS credits.
Institutions publish their course catalogs on the Internet, which include detailed descriptions of study programs, curricular units, university regulations, and services for students.
Course descriptions include learning outcomes (i.e., knowledge and skills that students should acquire) and study load (the amount of time needed to achieve those outcomes). Learning outcomes are expressed in credits, based on the above.
ECTS is used to support student mobility between higher education institutions. Course catalogs, learning agreements, and transcripts of records facilitate the recognition and transfer of credits earned by students during a mobility period abroad.