Recognition of qualifications and periods of study

Students generally seek recognition for what they have learned at home, abroad, in formal education, through self-study or through work experience. Recognition decisions are taken by competent authorities (universities, ministries, employers). Their judgements can be informed by transparency tools developed under the Erasmus programme and further promoted through the Bologna Process, principally ECTS and the Diploma Supplement (DS).

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 also 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.
ECTS started as a pilot scheme for mobile students under the Erasmus programme and is now available to students in the 46 Bologna countries. The Commission supports the use of ECTS through an ECTS Users’ Guide, through the advice of ECTS/DS Counsellors (working in National Teams of EU supported Bologna Experts) and through the award of an ECTS Label for the institutions with the best course catalogues and the best recognition practices.

In 2009 the EU presented a new ECTS Users’ Guide that had been prepared with the help of ECTS experts from higher education institutions. It takes into account the development of ECTS from a tool for transfer of credits to one for transfer and accumulation and also the increased importance of learning outcomes.

The Diploma Supplement provides a description of the nature, level, context, content and status of the studies successfully completed by the individual named on the original qualification to which the supplement is appended. The format of the Diploma Supplement has been developed jointly by the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO-CEPES. The Commission supports the use of the Diploma Supplement through the advice of ECTS/DS Counsellors and through the award of a DS Label for best practice. The Commission also promotes the Diploma Supplement as part of the Europass initiative.

In complicated recognition cases, the competent authorities can rely on the advice of their national ENIC/ NARIC centre, closely connected with the centres in other countries.

There is no automatic recognition, except in the case of certain regulated professions falling within the scope of EU Directive 2005/36/EC. Recognition can, however, be made easier through the use of individual and collective learning agreements. Individual learning agreements are widely used in the context of Erasmus and ECTS. Collective learning agreements are a new feature. They may be concluded within groups of like-minded higher education institutions, between learning providers and competent authorities within certain regions or within certain sectors. The conclusion of collective learning agreements will become easier thanks to the emerging national and sectoral qualifications frameworks and the close cooperation between quality assurance agencies.