ECTS makes teaching and learning in higher education more transparent across Europe and facilitates the recognition of all studies. The system allows for the transfer of learning experiences between different institutions, greater student mobility and more flexible routes to gain degrees. It also aids curriculum design and quality assurance.
Institutions which apply ECTS publish their course catalogues on the web, including detailed descriptions of study programmes, units of learning, university regulations and student services.
Course descriptions contain ‘learning outcomes’ (i.e. what students are expected to know, understand and be able to do) and workload (i.e. the time students typically need to achieve these outcomes). Each learning outcome is expressed in terms of credits, with a student workload ranging from 1 500 to 1 800 hours for an academic year, and one credit generally corresponds to 25-30 hours of work.
A series of ECTS key documents help with credit transfer and accumulation – course catalogues, learning agreements, transcript of records and Diploma Supplements (DS).
Although ECTS can help recognition of a student’s studies between different institutions and national education systems, higher education providers are autonomous institutions. The final decisions are the responsibility of the relevant authorities: professors involved in student exchanges, university admission officers, recognition advisory centres (ENIC-NARIC), ministry officials or employers.
The European Commission has established a network of Recognition experts (ECTS/DS) and developed the ECTS and DS labels to recognise excellent application of either system.
The ECTS Users' Guide provides guidelines for implementation of ECTS. It also presents the ECTS key documents. The Guide is offered to assist learners, academic and administrative staff in higher education institutions as well as other interested parties. It has been updated in 2009 to take account of developments in the Bologna Process, the growing importance of lifelong learning, the formulation of qualifications frameworks and the increasing use of learning outcomes. It has been written with the help of experts from stakeholders’ associations and ECTS counsellors, and submitted for consultation to stakeholders’ associations, Member States’ experts and the Bologna Follow-up Group. The European Commission has coordinated the drafting and consultation process and is responsible for the final wording of the Guide.
Hard copies of the ECTS Users Guide can be ordered at the EU Bookshop.
The basic principles of ECTS are summarised in the ECTS Key Features .