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About the ECTS System

The European Credit Transfer System was initially set up in 1989 as a pilot scheme within the framework of the Erasmus programme. Its aim at that time was to facilitate the recognition of study periods undertaken abroad by mobile students through the transfer of credits. As a transfer system ECTS has expanded to over 30 countries and has been introduced in more than one thousand higher education institutions.

The 40 Signatory States in the Bologna Process have identified ECTS as one of the cornerstones of the European Higher Education Area. A large number of countries have adopted ECTS by law as an accumulation system for their own higher education systems and others are in the process of doing so.

The University of Coimbra officially applied the ECTS to all its courses in December 2005 with the publication of the Regulation on the application of the course credit system (ECTS – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) to the courses of the University of Coimbra, in compliance with the Decree-law 42/2005, of February 22.

ECTS makes study programmes easy to read and compare. It can be used for all types of programmes, whatever their mode of delivery, and for lifelong learning purposes. It serves both mobile and non-mobile students: it can be used for accumulation within an institution and for transfer between institutions. For these reasons the well-known acronym “ECTS” now stands for “European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System”.

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a student-centred system based on the student workload required to achieve the objectives of a programme of study. These objectives should preferably be specified in terms of learning outcomes and competences to be acquired.

ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits measure the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. The student workload of a full-time study programme in Europe amounts in most cases to around 1500-1800 hours per year and in those cases one credit stands for around 25 to 30 working hours. Sensibly, 30 credits correspond to a study semester and 20 credits to a study trimester.

Credits in ECTS can only be obtained after successful completion of the work required and appropriate assessment of the learning outcomes achieved. Learning outcomes are sets of competences, expressing what the student will know, understand or be able to do after completion of a process of learning, long or short.

Student workload in ECTS consists of the time required to complete all planned learning activities such as attending lectures, seminars, independent and private study, preparation of projects, examinations, and so forth. Credits are allocated to all educational components of a study programme (such as modules, courses, placements, dissertation work, etc.) and reflect the quantity of work each component requires to achieve its specific objectives or learning outcomes in relation to the total quantity of work necessary to complete a full year of study successfully.

The ECTS is based on three core elements: information (about study programmes and students’ academic records), mutual agreement (between the partner institutions and the students) and the use of ECTS credits (quantified students’ workload). This three core elements are translated into three key documents, namely: the ECTS information package, the learning agreement and the academic transcript of records.


For more information on the ECTS see the European Commission website or read the ECTS User's Guide.

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