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ECTS is a learner-centred system for credit accumulation and transfer based on the transparency of learning outcomes and learning processes. It aims to facilitate planning, delivery, evaluation, recognition and validation of qualifications and units of learning as well as student mobility. ECTS is widely used in formal higher education and can be applied to other lifelong learning activities. ECTS credits are based on the workload students need in order to achieve expected learning outcomes.
Learning outcomes describe what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to do after successful completion of a process of learning. They relate to level descriptors in national and European qualifications frameworks. Credits are allocated to entire qualifications or study programmes as well as to their educational components (such as modules, course units, dissertation work, work placements and laboratory work). The number of credits ascribed to each component is based on its weight in terms of the workload students need in order to achieve the learning outcomes in a formal context.
Credits are awarded to individual students (full-time or part-time) after completion of the learning activities required by a formal programme of study or by a single educational component and the successful assessment of the achieved learning outcomes. Credits may be accumulated with a view to obtaining qualifications, as decided by the degree-awarding institution. If students have achieved learning outcomes in other learning contexts or timeframes (formal, nonformal or informal), the associated credits may be awarded after successful assessment, validation or recognition of these learning outcomes.
Credits awarded in one programme may be transferred into another programme, offered by the same or another institution.This transfer can only take place if the degree-awarding institution recognises the credits and the associated learning outcomes. Partner institutions should agree in advance on the recognition of periods of study abroad. Credit transfer and accumulation are facilitated by the use of the ECTS key documents (Course Catalogue, Student Application Form, Learning Agreement and Transcript of Records) as well as the Diploma Supplement.
(cfr. ECTS Users' Guide, p. 11)
ECTS and period of study abroad
In the case of agreed student mobility, the three parties involved (the home institution, the host institution and the student) should sign a Learning
Agreement for mobility, or a Training Agreement and Quality Commitment, prior to the mobility period.
In such cases, recognition of the credits by the home institution is automatic if the conditions stipulated in the document have been fulfilled.
In case of changes to the programme of study agreed with the learner, the Learning Agreement or Training Agreement may be amended, but the amended version must be signed again by the same three parties
concerned within an agreed period of time.
(cfr. ECTS Users' Guide, p. 22) : http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-policy/doc/ects/guide_en.pdf