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Accumulation of credits

The process of collecting credits awarded for achieving the learning outcomes of educational components in formal contexts and for other learning activities carried out in informal and non-formal contexts. A student can accumulate credits in order to obtain qualifications, as required by the degree-awarding institution, or to document personal achievements for lifelong learning purposes.

Allocation of credits

The process of assigning a number of credits to qualifications, degree programmes or single educational components. Credits are allocated to entire qualifications or programmes according to national legislation or practice, where appropriate, and with reference to national and/or European qualifications frameworks. They are allocated to educational components, such as course units, dissertations, work-based learning and work placements, taking as a basis the allocation of 60 credits per full-time academic year, according to the estimated workload required to achieve the defined learning outcomes for each component.

Assessment methods

The whole range of written, oral and practical tests/examinations, projects, performances, presentations and portfolios that are used to evaluate the learner’s progress and ascertain the achievement of the learning outcomes of an educational component (unit/module).

Assessment criteria

Descriptions of what the learner is expected to do and at what level, in order to demonstrate the achievement of a learning outcome.

The assessment methods and criteria for an educational component have to be appropriate and consistent with the learning outcomes that have been defined for it and with the learning activities that have taken place.

Award of credits

The act of formally granting students and other learners the credits that are assigned to the qualification and/or its components if they achieve the defined learning outcomes. National authorities should indicate which institutions have the right to award ECTS credits. Credits are awarded to individual students after they have completed the required learning activities and achieved the defined learning outcomes, as evidenced by appropriate assessment. If students and other learners have achieved learning outcomes in other formal, non-formal, or informal learning contexts or timeframes, credits may be awarded through assessment and recognition of these learning outcomes.



The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) defines competence as the ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development. In the context of the EQF competence is described in terms of responsibility and autonomy.

Fostering competences is the object of all educational programmes. Competences are developed in all course units and assessed at different stages of a programme. Some competences are subject-area related (specific to a field of study), others are generic (common to any degree course). It is normally the case that competence development proceeds in an integrated and cyclical manner throughout a programme.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

An aspect of lifelong learning, sometimes referred to as Continuing Professional Education, CPD describes the skills, knowledge and experience that an individual gains formally and informally in his work and which builds on his basic qualifications and training. Increasingly in professional and vocational careers there is a formal requirement to continue to learn and develop knowledge, skills and competences throughout careers to keep up to date and be able to work safely, legally and effectively. Formal CPD which is a professional requirement is validated and documented. Increasingly employers expect to have a formal authenticated record of an individual’s CPD and it consequently has become an important element in the curriculum.

Course Catalogue

The Course Catalogue includes detailed, user-friendly and up-to-date information on the institution’s learning environment (general information on the institution, its resources and services, as well as academic information on its programmes and individual educational components) that should be available to students before entering and throughout their studies to enable them to make the right choices and use their time most efficiently.

The Course Catalogue should be published on the institution’s website, indicating the course/subject titles in the national language (or regional language, if relevant) and in English, so that all interested parties can easily access it. The institution is free to decide the format of the Catalogue, as well as the sequencing of the information. It should be published sufficiently in advance for prospective students to make their choices.

Course unit

A self-contained, formally structured learning experience. It should have a coherent and explicit set of learning outcomes, defined learning activities consistent with the time allocated within the curriculum, and appropriate assessment criteria.

Credit (ECTS)

ECTS credits express the volume of learning based on the defined learning outcomes and their associated workload. 60 ECTS credits are allocated to the learning outcomes and associated workload of a full-time academic year or its equivalent, which normally comprises a number of educational components to which credits (on the basis of the learning outcomes and workload) are allocated. ECTS credits are generally expressed in whole numbers.

Credit mobility

The mobility of an exchange student, who stays at a host institution for a period, during which s/he can carry out activities awarding academic credits, which are then recognised by the home institution.

Credit transfer

A process that allows credit awarded by one higher education awarding body to be recognised and count towards the requirements of a programme at another institution; or that allows credit gained on a particular programme to contribute towards the requirements of a different one.


One of the objectives in the Bologna Declaration in 1999 was the ‘adoption of a system based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate.’ In 2003 doctoral studies were included in the Bologna structure and referred to as the third cycle. The EHEA has thus defined a hierarchy of three Higher Education cycles (first cycle, second cycle and third cycle). All higher education qualifications in the European Higher Education Area are located within these three cycles.

Cycle (Level) Descriptors

Generic statements about the expected outcomes for each of the three cycles. A good example of general cycle (level) descriptors are the so-called Dublin Descriptors, which have served as one of the foundations (along with ECTS) for the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area.


Degree mobility

Learning mobility for degree purposes, even if only part of the programme is undertaken abroad, e.g. in a jointly delivered or jointly awarded degree programme (Mapping University Mobility Project, 2015).

Degree programme

The set of educational components leading to the award of a degree to a student after successful completion of all the requirements.

Diploma Supplement

The Diploma Supplement (DS) is a document accompanying a higher education diploma, providing a standardised description of the nature, level, context, content and status of the studies completed by its holder. It is produced by the higher education institutions according to standards agreed by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO. The Diploma Supplement is also part of the Europass framework transparency tools.

It has the following eight sections of information:

  • the holder of the qualification
  • the qualification
  • its level and function
  • the contents and results gained
  • certification of the supplement
  • details of the national higher education system concerned (provided by the National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARICs))
  • any additional relevant information

Graduates in all the countries taking part in the Bologna Process have the right to receive the Diploma Supplement automatically, free and in a major European language.

Dublin Descriptors

The Dublin Descriptors are the cycle descriptors (or ‘level descriptors’) presented in 2003 and adopted in 2005 as the Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area. They offer generic statements of typical expectations of achievements and abilities associated with awards that represent the end of each of a (Bologna) cycle or level. The descriptors are phrased in terms of competence levels, not learning outcomes, and they enable to distinguish in a broad and general manner between the different cycles. A level descriptor includes the following five components:

  • knowledge and understanding
  • applying knowledge and understanding
  • making judgements
  • communication
  • lifelong learning skills



EU programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport for 2014-2020 (Regulation (EU) No 1288/2013).

European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)

A learner-centred system for credit accumulation and transfer, based on the principle of transparency of learning, teaching and assessment processes. Its objective is to facilitate planning, delivery and evaluation of study programmes and student mobility by recognising learning achievements and qualifications and periods of learning.

European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET)

The ECVET system aims at allowing the transfer, recognition and accumulation of learning outcomes to obtain a qualification. It is a decentralised system relying on volunteer participation of Member States and stakeholders of vocational training, respecting national legislations and regulations. It gives a methodological framework for describing qualifications in terms of learning outcomes using units, allowing the allocation of transferable points for Member States with different education and qualification frameworks. ECVET is founded on partner agreements regarding qualification transparency and mutual stakeholder trust (ECVET, 2010).

Educational component

A self-contained and formally structured learning experience (such as: course unit, module, work placement).

Europass Mobility

Europass is a set of five documents (Curriculum Vitae, Language Passport, Europass Mobility, Certificate Supplement, Diploma Supplement) which aim to make skills and qualifications clearly and easily understood in Europe. Europass Mobility is a document to record knowledge and skills acquired in another European country, completed by the institutions involved in the mobility of the individual (sending and receiving institution).

European Higher Education Area (EHEA)

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was launched at the Bologna Process' decade anniversary, in March 2010, during the Budapest-Vienna Ministerial Conference. Building on the main objective of the Bologna Process since its inception in 1999, the EHEA is meant to ensure more comparable, compatible, coherent and attractive systems of higher education in Europe.

European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF)

The European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning is a common European reference framework which enables countries of the European Union to link their qualifications systems to one another. It was adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 23 April 2008. The EQF uses eight reference levels based on learning outcomes that are defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competence. It shifts the focus from input (lengths of a learning experience, type of institution) to what a person holding a particular qualification actually knows and is able to do. It makes qualifications more readable and understandable across different countries and systems in the European Union.



Refers to measures through which the provision of higher education is made more flexible. The idea behind this concept is to open up higher education to more people and to increase adaptability to the multiple life worlds in modern societies. It also relates to flexibility in programme/curriculum design and approaches to learning and teaching.

Formal learning

Learning typically provided by an education or training institution, structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support) and leading to certification. Formal learning is intentional from the learner’s perspective.

Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA)

In the European Higher Education Area, qualifications frameworks are found at two levels. An overarching framework (QF-EHEA) has been adopted in 2005 and all member countries committed themselves to develop national qualifications frameworks that are compatible with this overarching framework.

A national qualifications framework for higher education encompasses all the qualifications in a higher education system. It shows the expected learning outcomes for a given qualification and how learners can move between qualifications.

The aim of QF-EHEA is to organise national higher education qualifications into an overarching European-wide qualifications framework. Within this Framework, qualifications are defined according to levels of complexity and difficulty (Bachelor, Master, Doctor).

The QF-EHEA identifies four main cycles which are described by the 'Dublin Descriptors'. They offer generic statements of typical expectations of achievements and abilities associated with awards that represent the end of each of a cycle. The short, first and second cycles are also characterised by credit ranges.

Free mover

A student participating in credit mobility outside an organised student mobility programme (for example Erasmus+). A free mover chooses a host institution and organises his/her credit mobility at that institution.


Grade distribution table

Grade distribution tables show how the existing national or institutional scale is being used in the institution – whether in open access or selective systems – and allow for comparison with the statistical distribution of grades in a parallel reference group of another institution. They represent the statistical distribution of positive grades (pass and above) awarded in each field of study in a specific institution.


Informal learning

Learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure which is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support; it may be unintentional from the learner's perspective; examples of learning outcomes acquired through informal learning are: skills acquired through life and work experiences, project management skills, ICT skills acquired at work, languages learned, intercultural skills acquired during a stay in another country, ICT skills acquired outside work, skills acquired through volunteering, cultural activities, sports, youth work and through activities at home e.g. taking care of a child (Council Recommendation 2012/C 398/01).


Joint degree

A single document which is awarded by higher education institutions offering the joint programme, and nationally acknowledged as the recognised award of the joint programme (EQAR, 2015).

Joint programme

An integrated curriculum coordinated and offered jointly by different higher education institutions and leading to double/multiple degrees or a joint degree (Ibid.).



An individual engaged in a learning process (formal, non-formal or informal learning). Students are learners involved in a formal learning process.

Learning Agreement

A formalised agreement of the three parties involved in mobility – the student, the sending institution and the receiving institution or organisation/enterprise – to facilitate the organisation of credit mobility and its recognition. The agreement is to be signed by the three parties before the start of the mobility period and it is intended to give the student the confirmation that the credits he/she successfully achieves during the mobility period will be recognised.

Learning mobility

Learning mobility is normally understood to involve physical mobility in which the learner/student moves to an institution in another country for part or all of a programme of study. The majority of such mobility takes place in the context of planned and organised programmes. The credits from such mobility are formally recognised by the sending institution.

There is also a considerable amount of ‘free mover’ mobility which depends on individual initiative.

As well as physical mobility it is increasingly possible for learners to participate in virtual mobility. This too may be through organised joint or shared curriculum, or through Open Universities, Open Education Resources, MOOCs, or other on-line material.

Learning outcome

Statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process. The achievement of learning outcomes has to be assessed through procedures based on clear and transparent criteria. Learning outcomes are attributed to individual educational components and to programmes at a whole. They are also used in European and national qualifications frameworks to describe the level of the individual qualification.

Learning pathway

Learning pathway is a route taken by a learner allowing him/her to build knowledge progressively and acquire the desired set of competences. The learning pathway may be ‘signposted’ through institution guidance and regulations (including the recognition of prior learning and experience) and different learning pathways may lead to the award of the same qualification. In essence the concept of a ‘learning pathway’ emphasises the choice of the student in reaching the desired educational goals.

Level descriptors

See under ‘Cycle (Level) Descriptors’ and ‘Dublin Descriptors’.

Lifelong learning

All learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective (Communication (2001) 678).

Programmes and services contributing to lifelong learning within the higher education sector may include mainstream programmes, continuing education, evening classes, specific programmes for part-time learners, access to libraries/higher education institution resources, distance learning, training courses, targeted guidance and counselling services among other actions and initiatives.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Courses which allow open entry, are free to sign up for, and are delivered online usually with peer or automated support. They often have large enrolment numbers.

Mobility window

A mobility window is a period of time reserved for international student mobility that is embedded into the curriculum of a study programme (Ferencz et al., 2013).


A course unit in a system in which each course unit carries the same number of credits or a multiple of it.


National Qualifications Framework (NQF)

An instrument for the classification of qualifications according to a set of criteria for specified levels of learning achieved, which aims to integrate and coordinate national qualifications subsystems and improve the transparency, access, progression and quality of qualifications in relation to the labour market and civil society (Council Recommendation 2012/C 398/01).

National qualifications frameworks encompass all education qualifications – or all higher education qualifications, depending on the policy of the country concerned – in an education system. They show what learners may be expected to know, understand and be able to do on the basis of a given qualification (learning outcomes) as well as how qualifications within a system articulate, that is how learners may move between qualifications in an education system.

National qualifications frameworks are developed by the competent public authorities in the country concerned, in cooperation with a broad range of stakeholders – including higher education institutions, students, staff and employers.

Non-formal learning

Learning which takes place through planned activities (in terms of learning objectives, learning time) where some form of learning support is present (e.g. learner-teacher relationships); it may cover programmes to impart work skills, adult literacy and basic education for early school leavers; very common cases of non-formal learning include in-company training, through which companies update and improve the skills of their workers such as ICT skills, structured on-line learning (e.g. by making use of open educational resources), and courses organised by civil society organisations for their members, their target group or the general public (Ibid.).


Open Educational Resources (OER)

Digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self- learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research; it includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licenses; OER also refers to accumulated digital assets that can be adjusted and which provide benefits without restricting the possibilities for others to enjoy them (Ibid.).


Programme (educational)

A set of educational components – based on learning outcomes – that are recognised for the award of a qualification.


The process which enables learners to pass from one stage of a qualification to the next and to access educational programmes that prepare for qualifications at a higher level than those he/she already possesses.

Progression rules

Set of rules that define conditions for learners’ progression within qualifications and towards other qualifications.



Any degree, diploma or other certificate issued by a competent authority attesting the successful completion of a recognised programme of study.

Quality assurance

The process or set of processes adopted nationally and institutionally to ensure the quality of educational programmes and qualifications awarded.

Quality assurance should ensure a learning environment in which the content of programmes, learning opportunities and facilities are fit for purpose. Quality assurance is often referred to in the context of a continuous improvement cycle (i.e. assurance and enhancement activities).


Recognition (academic recognition)

Approval of courses, qualifications, or diplomas from one (domestic or foreign) higher education institution by another for the purpose of admitting students to undertake further studies.

Academic recognition can also be sought for an academic career at a second institution and in some cases for access to other employment activities on the labour market (academic recognition for professional purposes). As regards the European Higher Education Area, three main levels of recognition can be considered, as well as the instruments attached to them (as suggested by the Lisbon Convention and the Bologna Declaration):

  1. recognition of qualifications, including prior learning and professional experience, allowing entry or re-entry into higher education;
  2. recognition of short study periods in relation to student mobility, having as the main instrument the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System);
  3. recognition of full degrees, having as the main instrument the Diploma Supplement
    (Vlăsceanu et al., 2004).

Recognition of credits

The process through which an institution certifies that learning outcomes achieved and assessed in another institution satisfy (some or all) requirements of a particular programme, its component or qualification.

Recognition of non-formal and informal learning

The process through which an institution certifies that the learning outcomes achieved and assessed in another context (non-formal or informal learning) satisfy (some or all) requirements of a particular programme, its component or qualification.

Recognition of prior learning and experience

The validation of learning outcomes, whether from formal education or non-formal or informal learning, acquired before requesting validation (Council Recommendation 2012/C 398/01).

Recognition of professional qualifications

Directive 2005/36/EC establishes rules for EU Member States on access to or pursuit of a regulated profession upon possession of specific professional qualifications. The Directive stipulates that the host Member State shall recognise professional qualifications obtained in another Member State – which allow the holder of the said qualifications to pursue the same profession there – for access to and pursuit of that profession.

The recognition of professional qualifications by the host Member State allows beneficiaries to gain access in that Member State to the same profession as that for which they are qualified in the home Member State and to pursue it in the host Member State under the same conditions as its nationals (Directive 2005/36/EC).



A learner enrolled on a formal educational programme at a higher education institution. Please note: The question of whether to refer to 'students' or 'learners' in this Guide was discussed in depth in the working group and with stakeholders. Due to the general shift towards more flexible learning provision it was agreed that the term ‘learner’ is preferable in most contexts. However, it was recognised that since most higher education systems are still organised around provision of formal programmes to a clearly defined student body, the term 'student' would be used to encompass all learners in higher education institutions (whether full-time or part-time, engaged in distance, on-campus or work-based learning, pursuing a qualification or following stand-alone educational units or courses).

Student-Centred Learning

A learning approach characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and students and which takes students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical and reflective thinking (ESU, 2010).


Transcript of Records

An up-to-date record of the students’ progress in their studies: the educational components they have taken, the number of ECTS credits they have achieved, and the grades they have been awarded. It is a vital document for recording progress and for recognising learning achievements, including for student mobility. Most institutions produce the Transcript of Records from their institutional databases.

Transfer (of credits)

The process of having credits awarded in one context (programme, institution) recognised in another formal context for the purpose of obtaining a qualification. Credits awarded to students in one programme may be transferred from an institution to be accumulated in another programme, offered by the same or another institution. Credit transfer is the key to successful study mobility. Institutions, faculties, departments may make agreements which guarantee automatic recognition and transfer of credits.



A process of confirmation by an authorised body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard and consists of the following four distinct phases:

  1. Identification through dialogue of particular experiences of an individual;
  2. Documentation to make visible the individual's experiences;
  3. Formal Assessment of these experiences; and
  4. Certification of the results of the assessment which may lead to a partial or full qualification (Council Recommendation 2012/C 398/01).

Virtual mobility

Cross-border e-learning (i.e. when a student follows distance learning courses offered by a higher education institution abroad). Virtual mobility can be useful in promoting and complementing physical mobility. Virtual mobility can play an important role in the internationalisation strategy of an institution (Mapping University Mobility Project, 2015).


Work-based learning

Learning delivered by a university, college or other training provider in the workplace, normally under the supervision of a person from the same company as well as a professional teacher from outside the company (Scottish Funding Council, 2015).


An estimation of the time learners typically need to complete all learning activities such as lectures, seminars, projects, practical work, work placements, individual study required to achieve the defined learning outcomes in formal learning environments. The correspondence of the full-time workload of an academic year to 60 credits is often formalised by national legal provisions. In most cases, student workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, which means that one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. It should be recognised that this represents the normal workload and that for individual learners the actual time to achieve the learning outcomes will vary.

Work placement

A planned period of experience outside the institution (for example, in a workplace) to help students to develop particular skills, knowledge or understanding as part of their programme.

Work Placement Certificate

A document is issued by the receiving organisation/enterprise upon the trainee’s completion of the work placement, and it can be complemented by other documents, such as letters of recommendation. It aims to provide transparency and bring out the value of the experience of the student’s work placement.