What is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)?

September 16, 2022

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a standard used to harmonize higher education in countries that belong to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). ECTS provides a systematic way of quantifying the amount of learning done and the results attained by students in member institutions.

While it was initially developed in 1989 to facilitate the transfer of credits for students in the Erasmus program, ECTS was eventually adopted as a core part of the Bologna Process, a joint effort begun in 1999 by several European countries to make higher education easier to compare and transfer across borders. What started as a system for comparing or transferring credits between institutions became a standard for the credits themselves, with “ECTS credits” being a common description.

Which Countries Use ECTS?

As of 2022, ECTS is used in 49 countries that are full members of the European Higher Education Area. These include founding members of the Bologna Process such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Netherlands, as well as more recent members like Montenegro and Kazakhstan.

What Problems Does ECTS Solve?

Transferring academic credentials across borders is a big challenge. It is common to see someone who worked as a medical doctor in one country doing menial work in another country because their academic credentials do not translate. For instance, a report by the Migration Policy Institute indicated that more than 1.3 million highly skilled migrants in the United States were unemployed or underemployed because their prior education was not domestically recognized and thus couldn't be used for their employment.

ECTS solves this problem by making the process of transferring credits from one country to another seamless. The system makes it possible for employers and institutions of higher education to easily understand an individual’s academic qualifications regardless of their country of origin.

A world with several different accreditation systems also makes student mobility difficult. Students are less inclined to explore education programs in other countries unless they are certain that their studies there will be recognized in their home countries. ECTS fixes this problem by making the process of transferring ECTS credits across institutions in the EHEA simple. The system also helps students to quickly estimate the amount of work required in each course, thus making the course selection process much easier than it would otherwise have been. ї

How Are ECTS Credits Calculated?

ECTS credits are awarded based on the amount of work done by a student in a particular class or module. In general, one ECTS credit is equivalent to 25 to 30 hours of work. Sixty ECTS credits represent approximately one year of full-time academic work—which means that a three-year bachelor’s degree requires 180 ECTS credits, and a four-year one requires 240 ECTS credits.

Are ECTS Credits Recognized in Non-European Countries?

ECTS is the most widely recognized form of accreditation in the world, with 49 countries using ECTS, including all members of the European Union. Although many countries have not yet directly adopted ECTS, most universities are familiar with ECTS credits and understand how to convert ECTS credits into the local equivalent. For example, 2 ECTS credits generally convert to 1 American credit (US master’s degrees require 45 credits to complete and European master’s degrees require 90 credits).

Of course, it is worth noting that universities act at their own discretion when it comes to accepting or converting credits earned in other institutions. This is especially true if students have not yet finished their studies and need to transfer credits into a new program. The receiving institution will ask not only whether the sending program is accredited but also whether it is relevant—so a university may decline to accept humanities credits for a science subject.

Woolf students can use credential evaluation services such as ECE.org when transferring credits to a foreign institution, or when seeking to have a degree recognized. ECE has determined that Woolf’s accreditation is the “Equivalent to US Regional Academic Accreditation” and that a “student will have the United States equivalent of a master’s degree.”

How Woolf Leverages ECTS

Woolf is the first global collegiate university that allows qualified education institutions to join as member colleges and offer accredited programs using ECTS credits. To ensure quality and compliance with the ECTS system, Woolf built a software platform (the Accreditation Management System) to ensure that all programs offered by all Woolf colleges meet the same European Standards and Guidelines  and meet the European Commission’s standards for ECTS accreditation. Woolf works closely with regulatory partners in Europe and is a licensed Higher Education Institution with license 2019-015.

All Woolf colleges, regardless of where they are located, operate within the same set of rules and policies and enjoy the ability to offer degrees with ECTS accreditation and global recognition. For example, Scaler Neovarsity is a full member college of Woolf, located in India, and offers ECTS-accredited courses to students around the world. This is a big step for students who wish to earn degrees with ECTS credits, the most popular and recognized accreditation system in the world.