The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) was developed by the European Commission with a view to promote the development of cooperation between universities from the Member States of the European Union, EFTA countries and the associated states. Within this cooperation major importance has been attached to student mobility, which has flourished rapidly creating a need for an approved system of common procedures to guarantee academic recognition of study periods abroad.
ECTS provides a simple and transparent way of measuring and comparing study programmes and learning achievements, and transferring them from one institution to another. This is achieved through the use of a common ECTS credit unit and a common ECTS grading scale.
ECTS credits are a numerical value allocated to course units to describe the student workload needed to complete them. Each value reflects the quantity of work a course unit requires in relation to the total quantity of work necessary to complete a full year of academic study at a given institution. All forms of study are taken into consideration: lectures, tutorials, practical work, seminars, home assignments as well as examinations and other assessment activities.
In ECTS, 60 credits represent the workload of a year of study; normally 30 credits are given for a semester. It is assumed that all ECTS courses are mainstream courses of the participating institution, as followed by home students under normal regulations. It is up to the participating institution to assign credits for the different courses relative to their workload. Internships (practical placements) and optional courses which form an integral part of the course of study also receive academic credit. Non-credit courses may, however, be mentioned in the transcript of records.
ECTS makes use of three key documents:
1. The information package provides general information on the host institution, its academic calendar, admission procedures as well as detailed descriptions of the degree programmes and courses available within one or more (usually related) areas of study. In particular, it describes the form, content, level, prerequisites, duration, mode of assessment, credit value and other characteristics of each course offered by a single department of the host university participating in the ECTS scheme. The package serves as a guide to students and academic staff from partner universities. It should be updated every academic year and made available in an electronic form as well as in one of the EU official languages.
2. The learning agreement describes the programme of study abroad drawn by the individual student and institutions involved (sending and receiving institution) before the student goes abroad. The student obliges in this document to complete a specified selection of courses from those offered by the host school. The receiving institution, once it has endorsed the agreement, is obliged to secure the student a placement in the selected courses, while the sending school confirms its willingness to transfer the credits earned by the student according to the ECTS rules and grading scale.
3. The transcript of records shows the learning achievements of the student prior to and after the period of study abroad. The transcript records every course taken by the student, and includes the number of ECTS credits completed, as well as the grade awarded according to the local grading scale and, when available, the ECTS grading scale.
These documents are used by the institutional and departmental co-ordinators, appointed by each institution to deal with the administrative and academic aspects of ECTS. The set of documents they endorse with their signatures includes: the learning agreement, the transcript of records and the student application form which is described below. It is their role to advise and counsel students who wish to participate in ECTS. Counselling forms an important part of the scheme.
How does ECTS work?
This is, in short, how the ECTS scheme works in case of a single student. The candidate, having read the information package of the host school he/she would like to study at, prepares (with advice from his/her departmental coordinator) a program for the period of study abroad. The first document to be filled in is the student application form, which in addition to candidate\’s personal data and photograph should state the number of ECTS credits he/she plans to obtain at the receiving school. Attached to the application form are the learning agreement and the transcript of records showing the student\’s learning achievements to date. The student may also wish to include a second or even third choice of host institution in the application form, should the first choice of destination not be accepted. In this case, the student, with the approval of the coordinator, will have to prepare a learning agreement for each intended destination.
The learning agreement is signed by the student, the home institution and the host institution. The signing of this document facilitates full academic recognition of studies at the receiving school. A copy of the signed learning agreement should be given to all parties involved, the home institution, the host institution and the student. Students may have to modify the agreed programme of study upon arrival at the host institution due, for example, to timetable clashes or for other reasons. The learning agreement therefore provides for changes to the originally agreed study programme subject to approval by all parties involved. All such changes must be counter-signed by the student and the coordinators of both the home and host institutions.
Credit transfer in ECTS operates by means of exchange of transcripts of records between home and host institution and vice versa. Every course taken by the student is recorded on the transcript with not only the ECTS credits but also with the grade awarded according to the local grading scale and, possibly, according to the ECTS grading scale. The combination of grades and ECTS credits represents the performance of the student in qualitative and quantitative terms respectively. A signed copy of the transcripts of records should be given to all parties involved, the home institution, the host institution and the student.
All students of participating departments who wish to take part in the ECTS scheme may do so provided their own institution agrees and there are enough places available.
Most students participating in ECTS will go to one host institution abroad, study there for a limited period and then return to their home institution. When a student returns and has successfully completed the study programme previously agreed to by the home and host schools, credit transfer takes place. The student then resumes the study programme at the home institution without any loss of time or credit. If, on the other hand, the student decides to stay at the host institution and to take his/her degree there, he/she may have to adapt his/her study course to comply with the rules of the host country, institution and department.
Financial support for ECTS students is provided via mobility grants awarded within the ERASMUS program to students who meet the following general eligibility requirements:
* Students must be citizens of an EU Member State, an EFTA country or an associated state.
* Students are exempted from tuition fees at the host institution. They may, however, be required to pay their normal tuition fees to the home institution during the period of study abroad.
* The national grant or loan to which a student may be entitled for study at his/her home institution may not be discontinued, interrupted or reduced while that student is studying in another Member State and is receiving an ERASMUS grant.
* One study period abroad should not last less than 3 months or more than one year.
* Students in their first year of study are not eligible for ERASMUS grants.