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What is ECTS? The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System Explained

What is ECTS? The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System Explained

ECTS, which stands for European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, is a tool used across European higher education institutions, and is important for the Bologna Process. Whilst it originated in Europe, it is now being adopted by institutions outside of the EU/EEA area.

The ECTS credit system allows students and institutions to quantify the academic worth of a study programme, and makes studying abroad simpler. It also means that in most countries within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), a module or course is worth the same. Most countries will award credits for study, but they will most likely not be comparable or transferable from country to country. You would normally be awarded a certain amount or number of credits depending on how long your module or course is, as well as the level at which you are studying – you might earn more credits if you are studying a postgraduate degree.

Read more in our guide to studying in Europe.

Why is it useful?

Due to the differences in global education systems, it can be difficult and confusing to understand how qualifications compare, as well as problems that may occur with recognition of certain awards. Having a tool that allows institutions to share a credit system removes any confusion and disparity, meaning that studying abroad can be easier, particularly for Europe based students.

How does ECTS work?

You are awarded ECTS credits to acknowledge the workload you have undertaken throughout your studies. Your credits do not represent a grade or result, and can be converted to study hours. Credits are normally split between modules across a study programme.

As well as ECTS credits, there is also an ECTS grading system. This was created by the European Commission, and aims to make grades easily comparable across countries. The grading system is based on class percentile, meaning that your grade shows how you performed in comparison to your peers. 

Need to take an English language test before studying abroad? Find out more about the tests, as well as your options in our English language testing for international students advice article.

What are the conversions?

One year of full-time study usually equates to 60 ECTS credits. This means that a standard undergraduate degree (when studied full-time) will convert to either 180 or 240 ECTS credits, depending on whether your programme is 3 or 4 years long.

A standard full-time postgraduate degree normally converts to 90 or 120 ECTS credits, depending on whether it is 18 or 24 months long. The application and conversion of ECTS credits at PhD and Doctorate level varies, but is still easily transferable.

You can also convert your ECTS credits to study hours, which tend to be estimates. Depending on your country, one ECTS credit can equate to between 25 and 30 study hours. If you need to make this conversion from credits to study hours, you should make sure that you use the conversion rate of the correct country.

See this section for more advice and information about studying abroad as an international student.

See also: What is Erasmus Mundus, Study in Europe

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