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6 Quality assurance

ECTS and quality assurance

This section outlines how ECTS contributes to quality enhancement in HEIs and gives examples for the evaluation of ECTS implementation.

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.

Nota Bene

European Standards and Guidelines (ESG)

‘The European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) are a set of standards and guidelines for internal and external quality assurance in higher education. The ESG are not standards for quality, nor do they prescribe how the quality assurance processes are implemented, but they provide guidance, covering the areas which are vital for successful quality provision and learning environments in higher education. The ESG should be considered in a broader context that also includes qualifications frameworks, ECTS and the Diploma Supplement that also contribute to promoting the transparency and mutual trust in higher education in the EHEA.’

Standards 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and the associated guidelines refer to areas related to ECTS (in particular programme design, Student-Centred Learning, teaching and assessment and student admission, progression, recognition and certification).

Good practice in using ECTS will help institutions improve the quality of their programmes and their learning mobility offer. Thus, ECTS use should be quality assured through appropriate evaluation processes (e.g. monitoring, internal and external quality reviews and students’ feedback) and continuous quality enhancement. In evaluating the effectiveness of a programme (including the learning outcomes, workload and assessment methods) a number of measures will be used. These may include high dropout or failure rates or longer completion times. A programme can be considered effective when its goals are attained in due time, that is to say when students achieve the defined learning outcomes, accumulate the required credits and obtain the qualification as planned in the programme. However, care should be taken in any analysis to discriminate critically between the elements, as they may also indicate ineffective planning or delivery of the programme or inadequate measures for supporting students.

The following indicators can be used for evaluating the quality of ECTS implementation:

  • Educational components are expressed in terms of appropriate learning outcomes, and clear information is available concerning their level, credits, delivery and assessment;
  • Studies can be completed in the time officially allocated to them (i.e. the workload associated with an academic year, a semester, trimester or a single course component is realistic);
  • Annual monitoring examines any variations in patterns of achievement and results gained and follows up with appropriate revision;
  • Students are provided with detailed information and advice so that they can follow progression rules, exploit options for flexible pathways and select educational components at an appropriate level for their qualification;
  • Students are informed promptly of their results.

For mobile students and recognition, this means that:

  • Credit transfer processes are included in the monitoring, review and validation procedures;
  • Appropriate staff are designated as responsible for credit recognition and transfer matters;
  • Learning Agreements are completed in all cases; their development, and any subsequent changes to them, are subject to sensitive yet robust approval processes;
  • Incoming mobile students undertake educational components from the existing Course Catalogue; they are assessed and graded like local students;
  • Detailed transcripts are provided recording the credits and grades awarded;
  • Recognition is given to all credits associated with successfully completed educational components undertaken as part of an approved Learning Agreement in its final version; results are issued and transmitted promptly;
  • Grading tables exist for interpreting the grades awarded, so that grades – and not just credits – are properly reflected in any final qualifications gained.

Student representatives should be actively engaged in quality assurance processes for ECTS:

  • In internal quality assurance, where students provide information (by responding to surveys on a regular basis, focus groups); participate in the preparation of the institutions' self-assessment reports; are actively engaged in the bodies responsible for internal quality assurance processes and monitoring of the ECTS credit allocation.
  • In external quality assurance, where students are members of external review panels of higher education institutions and/or programmes.