ECTS credit system

European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)

(Source: European Commission)


What is ECTS?

ECTS is a credit system designed to make it easier for students to move between different countries. Since they are based on the learning achievements and workload of a course, a student can transfer their ECTS credits from one university to another so they are added up to contribute to an individual's degree programme or training.

ECTS helps to make learning more student-centered. It is a central tool in the Bologna Process, which aims to make national systems more compatible.

ECTS also helps with the planning, delivery and evaluation of study programmes, and makes them more transparent.


Why is ECTS necessary?

The differences between national systems can lead to problems with the recognition of educational qualifications from other countries and of periods of study taken abroad. Greater transparency of learning achievements simplifies the recognition of studies done in other countries.

ECTS also makes it possible to merge different types of learning, such as university and work-based learning, within the same programme of study or in a lifelong learning perspective.


How does ECTS work?

ECTS credits represent the workload and defined learning outcomes ("what the individual knows understands and is able to do") of a given course or programme. 60 credits are the equivalent of a full year of study or work. In a standard academic year, 60 credits would be usually broken down into several smaller components.



Workload is an estimation of the time the individual typically needs to complete all learning activities such as lectures, seminars, projects, practical work, work placements and individual study required to achieve the defined learning outcomes in formal learning environments. The correspondence of the full-time workload of an academic year to 60 credits is often formalized by national legal provisions. In most cases, workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, which means that one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. It should be recognized that this represents the typical workload and that for individual students the actual time to achieve the learning outcomes will vary.

A typical "first cycle" (or Bachelor's) Degree, would consist of 180 or 240 credits, whereas a typical "second cycle" (or Master's) Degree, would consist of 90 or 120 credits, with at least 60 credits at second cycle level. The use of ECTS at the "third cycle" (or Ph.D. level) varies.


Transfer of credits

Transfer of credits is the process of having credits awarded in one context (programme, institution) recognized in another formal context for the purpose of obtaining a qualification. Credits awarded to students in one programme may be transferred from an institution to be accumulated in another programme offered by the same or another institution. Credit transfer is the key to successful study mobility. Institutions, faculties, departments may make agreements which guarantee automatic recognition and transfer of credits.


ECTS for mobility and credit recognition

Successful learning mobility requires academic recognition and transfer of credits. Recognition of credits is the process through which an institution certifies that learning outcomes achieved and assessed in another institution satisfy the requirements of one of the programmes they offer. Given the diversity of programmes and Higher Education Institutions, it is unlikely that the credits and learning outcomes of a single educational component in two different programmes will be identical. This is even more the case in recognizing learning from other learning contexts (for example vocational education and training).

An open and flexible approach to the recognition of credits obtained in another context, including learning mobility, is therefore recommended, based on compatibility of learning outcomes rather than equivalence of course contents. In practice, recognition means that the number of credits gained for compatible learning outcomes achieved in another context will replace the number of credits that are allocated for compatible learning outcomes at the awarding institution. Institutions should make their recognition policies known and easily accessible.


Degree mobility

Degree programmes can vary in the number of ECTS credits they include. For the purposes of recognition of qualifications for further studies, the difference in the number of ECTS credits gained after successful completion of a qualification are not a consideration. The programme learning outcomes should be the main factor to be taken into account. This means, for example, that a comparable Bachelor degree should be recognized for the purpose of consideration for admission to a Master’s programme, independently of whether it is based on 180 or 240 ECTS credits.


Credit mobility

ECTS was designed to facilitate learning mobility between institutions for short-term study periods (‘credit mobility’). ECTS has developed and been adopted for purposes of credit accumulation but it still plays a vital role in student mobility – facilitating the transfer and recognition of the achievements of the mobile student.

ECTS has been adopted by most of the countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), and is increasingly used elsewhere. The ECTS Users' Guide describes the ECTS credit system, and how to use it. ECTS is also used in other documents that help to organize students' learning mobility, including:

 The Course Catalogue,

 The Learning Agreement,

 The Transcript of Records

These documents provide information on the learning outcomes achieved, on which the qualification-awarding institution can make decisions on credit recognition and transfer. Please see the European Recognition Manual for Higher Education Institutions for details. There is a useful flowchart on the recognition of periods of study abroad.

ECTS also helps make other documents such as the Diploma Supplement clearer and easier to use in different countries.


ECTS and quality assurance

The primary responsibility for quality assurance lies with each institution, as agreed by Education Ministers of the countries involved in the Bologna Process (Berlin Communiqué, 2003). Internal quality assurance involves all procedures undertaken by higher education institutions to ensure that the quality of their programmes and qualifications meets their own specifications and those of other relevant bodies such as quality assurance agencies. External quality reviews undertaken by quality assurance agencies provide feedback to institutions and information to stakeholders. Quality assurance principles and processes apply to all modes of learning and teaching (formal, non-formal, informal, new modes of learning, teaching and assessment). The European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ENQA, 2005) support internal and external quality assurance.