The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)

ECTS | Students workload | Learning outcomes


A credit system is a systematic way of describing an educational program by assigning credits to its components.

ECTS is a credit system introduced in 1989 within the framework of the Erasmus program. The aim was to facilitate the recognition of study periods undertaken abroad by mobile students through the transfer of credits.

Later on, ECTS became a basic condition of the educational reform introduced on a European level by the Bologna Declaration (19th of June 1999). ECTS developed in a transfer and accumulation system, so that a higher education study now corresponds to the achievement of a defined number of ECTS (180 credits for the first cycle, the Bachelor's degree program; 90-120 credits for the second cycle, the master's degree program).
The aim of this renewal process was to harmonize the different European higher educational programs making them easy to read and compare, and facilitating student mobility between different institutions.

ECTS is a credit system based on two parameters: student workload and learning outcomes.


Students workload

Student workload consists of the time required to complete all learning activities such as attending lectures, seminars, independent and private study, examinations and so forth. Credits reflect the quantity of work. What is taken into account is not the number of course hours per week (attendance time), but the overall time required to learn the subject matter (including the assessment of learning outcomes).

  • There is no direct link between contact hours and credits (i.e. a lecture hour may require three hours of independent study by the student).
  • ECTS say nothing about the status of a course or the prestige of a teacher.

Why base credits on time?

Basing a program on a reasonable and realistic estimate of the time required by an average learner protects all students from unrealistic and overloaded programs or from excessively light and undemanding ones. It helps academic staff to design and deliver realistic curricula.

The number of credits for a learning outcome is measured on the basis of the workload required. The student workload of a full-time study program in Europe amounts in most cases to around 1500-1800 hours per year. 60 credits define the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. From here comes the basic principle that:

1 ECTS stands for around 25 to 30 working hours.

This reasoning reflects the principle that ECTS was originally set for Bachelor's and Master's degrees, which are clearly structured educational programs based on regular frequentation of courses, on learning and assessments.
A doctorate is a course of study where acquisition of knowledge and practical skills are structured in a different way. For this reason the attribution of ECTS to an activity based on the principle "1 ECTS = workload of 25-30 hours" is not always easy and gives room to personal interpretation (see how to allocate credits to the activities).


Learning outcomes

Study programs are divided into sections, which should correspond to specified learning outcomes: knowledge, skills, understanding...

What is the point of describing study programs in terms of learning outcomes rather than in terms of content, as in the traditional way?

Learning outcomes place the emphasis on the results of the learning process for the learner in terms of knowledge, understanding and abilities, rather than on the means the teaching staff employs to obtain those results. The use of learning outcomes represents a shift in thinking from a staff-based output-oriented system to a student-centred output-oriented approach.

Credits can be obtained after successful completion of the work required and appropriate assessment of the learning outcomes achieved. Assessments are made on the basis of written or oral exams, or in the basis of a dissertation or written work or even an attendance certificate.
The activities of a postgraduate program usually are not followed by a written and/or oral exam, and seldom by an evaluation. Therefore, it is essential that students provide attendance certificate for each event in order to be eligible of receiving credits.

For more information and reference documents on ECTS please see the following web sites:

Bologna process


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