A History of ECTS, 1989-2019: Developing a World Standard for Credit Transfer and Accumulation in Higher Education

Robert Wagenaar*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    A History of ECTS, 1989 - 2019 celebrates the 30th anniversary of the European credit system for higher education. It is the first publication that documents the origin and the development of ECTS over time. Papers that have been published about ECTS cover aspects of it, but its full and remarkable history has not yet been told. This book intends to fill this void. Today, the use of ECTS credit points in higher education in Europe is routinely perceived as a day-to-day reality. Its underpinning concept – workload – has also been picked-up in other world regions.
    The development of ECTS had to start from scratch because worldwide there was no experience in setting up and running a national and/or international student workload-based transfer system that applied credit points. A Pilot Scheme (1989-1995) was set up to define ECTS. It involved five subject areas, and 145 higher education institutions in total, and set out to develop a sustainable, robust and reliable tool to facilitate international student mobility. Based on the notions of trust and confidence and the concept of ‘relative’ student workload, it was unique. It opted for 60 credit points to represent one academic year.
    Around 2000 it was concluded that ECTS in its present form was no longer sustainable and that action was required. There were concerns about a lack of flexibility and the level of recognition. It was thought necessary to transform the European Credit Transfer System into a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System. This implied an adjustment of the ECTS principles: not only student workload but also the outcomes of the learning process should be decisive for awarding credit points. This linked ECTS to the paradigm change that was embraced in 2009 by the Bologna Process: from the expertise-driven approach to the so-called student-centred approach -; that is to make what students need to operate successfully in society after graduation the focal point of educational programmes. At present, nearly all of the 48 signatory of the Bologna Declaration are convinced that ECTS is a key instrument for student-centred reform of higher education programmes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationBilbao and Groningen
    PublisherInternational Tuning Academy
    Number of pages117
    ISBN (Print)978-84-1325-042-7
    Publication statusPublished - Dec-2019


    • ECTS
    • Credit system
    • Credit points
    • Student worked
    • Learning Outcomes
    • Credit mobility
    • Credit transfer
    • Credit accumulation

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