What is the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)?

ECTS: A credit system for European education

ECTS, or the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, helps students and universities to determine the amount of study load associated with lectures and study programmes. Although it can be daunting at first, it is fairly easy to understand. Let's take a look at the main aspects of ECTS:

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

ECTS is a standardised points system used in university education and agreed between universities and governments. It facilitates the comparison of educational programmes and courses between countries.

ECTS makes learning across countries in the European Higher Education Area more comparable. The credit system allows students to study and live abroad by participating in an exchange programme. It also simplifies the study abroad process by allowing universities to compare course offerings and credit earned.

Students can accumulate lecture credits from different institutions towards a degree or qualification, providing greater flexibility in choosing their study pathway.

ECTS is accepted in all countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), including 48 countries from Portugal to Russia and Kazakhstan.

What are ECTS points?

ECTS points, or ECTS credits, reflect the amount of work required to complete a study programme or module as part of the educational process. They are not linked to grades, but rather indicate the amount of coursework.

Typically, each year of study (or equivalent period of work, if applicable) is valued at 60 ECTS credits. This amount is usually divided into modules, e.g. 4 modules of 15 ECTS credits each per year.

The sum of the ECTS credits across all modules forms the total teaching load for the programme:

  • For Bachelor's programmes this is usually between 180 ECTS (3 years) and 240 ECTS (4 years).
  • For Master's programmes it is between 60 ECTS (1 year) and 120 ECTS (2 years).
  • For doctoral programmes, the specific number of credits is not so easy to determine due to their flexibility and individual characteristics.

The conversion of ECTS credits into study hours varies from country to country and university to university. Usually, a year of study is estimated at 1 500 to 1 800 study hours, which means that 1 ECTS credit represents approximately 25 to 30 study hours. However, the exact values may vary from country to country.

These values include not only "contact hours" (i.e. time in the classroom), but also time for preparation, homework and so on. Therefore, actual study time may vary.

If you study part-time, the number of ECTS credits per semester or year will be lower, reflecting a smaller overall study load. For example, enrolling for 20 ECTS per semester means more free time than enrolling for more than 30 ECTS, which may result in limited time for other activities.

  • UK: 60 ECTS = 1 200 study hours → 1 ECTS = 20 study hours
  • Austria, Ireland, Italy, Malta: 60 ECTS = 1 500 study hours → 1 ECTS = 25 study hours
  • Finland, Lithuania, Sweden: 60 ECTS = 1 600 study hours → 1 ECTS = 27 study hours
  • Netherlands, Portugal: 60 ECTS = 1 680 study hours → 1 ECTS = 28 study hours
  • Germany: 60 ECTS = 1 800 study hours → 1 ECTS = 30 study hours

What is ECTS?

How are ECTS credits calculated?

ECTS Credit Points are a measure of the workload associated with study modules or programmes. However, what makes them special is their universality: almost all European universities, as well as many other educational institutions around the world, use and adopt this system.

The ECTS system has found wide application in three main areas:

  • Transfer between universities: This means that students can easily transfer from one European university to another, as their progress is clearly reflected in credit points. This also applies to exchange programmes abroad and continuing studies.
  • Study abroad: The ECTS system facilitates the study abroad process as universities can easily compare and accept credits. For example, ECTS credits earned can be recognised at your home institution as part of your overall study programme.
  • Admission to further study: ECTS credits help graduate or postgraduate admissions committees to understand your academic path and level of preparation. Many programmes specify a minimum number of ECTS credits required for admission.

In general, the ECTS system facilitates international education by making it more accessible and comparable. It allows students from different countries and universities to freely exchange knowledge and experience, broaden their horizons and build their careers on the world stage.

Are ECTS credits important when applying to Master's programmes?

When applying for a Master's degree or other postgraduate programmes, ECTS credits can play an important role.

Although there are no strict admission rules, ECTS credits can make the admission process much easier, especially if students plan to study in countries other than where they completed their undergraduate studies.

Admission requirements for Master's programmes may include a certain number of ECTS credits in the subject area in which they plan to study. This is especially important if students want to study a new subject area that is not the same as their previous specialisation.

For example, if a student wants to pursue a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering after completing a Bachelor's degree in another field, they may need to confirm their knowledge of mathematics. In this case, the ECTS credits gained for maths-related courses during the Bachelor's degree can validate his or her preparation and help with admission.

Are ECTS credits important for admission to PhD programmes?

Applying for a PhD or doctoral programme may have some peculiarities compared to other postgraduate courses, but ECTS credit points still play an important role. The credit points earned in undergraduate and graduate programmes can provide admissions committees with valuable information about a student's knowledge and depth of study in the particular subject area they are seeking to immerse themselves in.

Thus, PhD admission requirements may include a certain number of ECTS credit points in a particular subject area. This is particularly important when students are seeking a PhD in a field that is somewhat broader than their previous studies.

For example, students aspiring to a PhD in engineering must demonstrate competence in practical skills, even if their research is more theoretical. ECTS credit points help to confirm that students' knowledge meets the requirements of the programme, regardless of where they have studied previously.

How do I convert UK credits into ECTS credits?

In the UK, although part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), universities usually apply their own credit system - UK credits. Whilst these are formally defined under different schemes in different parts of the UK, they are effectively equivalent and applied in the same context.

The conversion of UK credits to ECTS credits is quite simple: 2 UK credits are equal to 1 ECTS credit.

When it comes to converting US credits to ECTS credits, the process is also possible. For example, for students who have completed a Bachelor's degree in the US and wish to enrol for a Master's degree in Europe, the standard "full course load" at a US university is 15 credits per semester, which is equivalent to 30 ECTS credits at a European university. Thus, the conversion ratio between American and European credits is typically 2:1, meaning that 1 American credit point corresponds to 2 ECTS credit points.

What is EHEA?

Which countries accept ECTS credit points?

The ECTS credit system is used by all universities within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which consists of 48 member countries.

The aim of the EHEA is to implement the Bologna Process, which involves harmonising the structure of higher education in member institutions and standardising educational programmes. To join the EHEA, countries must ratify the treaty on the European Cultural Convention.

Although some universities outside the EHEA may accept ECTS credits on application, they are usually obliged to transfer these credits and grades into their own structure. It is important to note that these universities do not automatically assign ECTS grades to graduates.


ECTS, or the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, plays a key role in standardising education across the countries of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). It facilitates the comparison and exchange of educational achievements between universities, ensuring transparency and consistency in higher education. Thanks to ECTS, students can study abroad and accumulate credits efficiently, and universities are able to assess students' academic achievements.


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