ECTS is a student-oriented credit system based on the workload of the student. It is a value that represents all the studies (theoretical courses, applications, seminars, independent studies, examinations, assignments, etc.) that a student needs to complete in order to be successful in a course. In addition, it makes teaching and learning more transparent and facilitates the recognition of studies (formal, non-formal and informal). The system is used across Europe for credit transfer (student mobility) and credit accumulation (learning paths towards a degree.) It also informs curriculum design and quality assurance. Institutions which use ECTS publish their course catalogues on the web, including detailed descriptions of study programs, units of learning, university regulations and student services. Course descriptions contain learning outcomes (what students are expected to know, understand and be able to do), and workload (the time students typically need to achieve the learning outcomes) expressed in terms of credits. In most cases, student workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, and one credit corresponds to 25-30 hours of work.

Credit transfer and accumulation are made easier by the use of the ECTS key documents (course catalogue, learning agreement, and transcript of records) as well as the Diploma Supplement.
ECTS can feed into recognition decisions. These decisions, however, remain the responsibility of the competent authorities that are professors involved in student exchange, university admission officers, recognition advisory centers (ENIC-NARIC), ministry officials or employers.
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