The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) was firstly instituted in 1989, within the Erasmus programme, as a method of transferring credits which students receive during their studies abroad into credits that are counted towards their degree, after they return to their home institution. Basically, ECTS is designed as a tool in the Bologna Process in order to improve the quality of higher education in European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by making studies and courses more transparent as well as for the aim of enhancing the mobility of students between different institutions in different countries. ECTS is based on the students' workload, which is an estimation of the time that the student usually needs to complete all compulsory learning activities in and outside school. Such activities include lectures, seminars, panels, student presentations, projects, practical work, site trips and individual studies necessary to do assignments and projects. Furthermore, the times expended for the preparation of exams and of presentations and other activities done to succeed the defined learning outcomes in formal learning environments are also added values to students' workload. ECTS helps to design student-centred learning environments in higher education and to make national systems more compatible with the other institutions in the other European countries.
ECTS credits represent the workload and described learning outcomes of a given course. Therefore, defining the program outputs, and correspondingly, defining the learning outcomes of each course in the program are essential for structuring this system properly. The program outputs refer to the volume of the abilities and the competencies that a graduate gains after the completion of that program whereas the learning outcomes of a course describe the significant and essential learning that learners have achieved, and can reliably be substantiated at the end of a course.
The scope of learning based on the outlined learning outcomes and their associated workload are indicated by the ECTS credits. Considering that 25 to 30 hours of student work is a requirement for 1 ECTS credit, hence, the expected full time workload of a student for an academic year is 60 credits, which corresponds to 1500 to 1800 hours. Definitely, this calculation represents the typical workload and for individual students the actual time to achieve the learning outcomes for a specific course may vary.
As agreed by 29 European countries in Bologna Declaration in June 1999, a common structure of easily recognizable and comparable degrees in framework of qualifications for the EHEA is established. The Bachelor's Degree, which is named as a typical "first cycle” would consist of 180 credits for 3 years and 240 credits for 4 years undergraduate programs. The Master's Degree, which is a typical "second cycle" degree, would consist of 90 or 120 credits, with at least 60 credits at the second cycle level. In 2003, it is declared during the Berlin Communiqué that the European states should be encouraged to structure a detailed framework of comparable and compatible qualifications for their higher education systems, which should seek to describe qualifications in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences and profile.