Mobility of students for AECEF Members Using ECTS
(European Credit Transfer System)

by Alfredo Soeiro
Associate Professor, Dept. of Civil Engineering,
University of Porto, Portugal

This work was done following the request done by the Steering Committee in the meeting in Prague in September 95. It is intended to facilitate the exchange of students between the members. It is based on the scheme that has been successfully used by the European Union since 1988. In this document it was also considered that the majority of the members are European and that after 1997 it is considered that European student mobility programs will be extended to Eastern and Central Europe. The table presented is the result of a survey done between the members of AECEF.

The main difficulties detected in student mobility were the course or the work transfer between home and host institutions and the grade conversion that was coupled with the credit transfer. Therefore the European Union created a program called ECTS. The guidelines are presented in the annex and describe the work completely. As a reference or a substitute a teble with the conversion of grades is presented. A series of recommendations are made for organizational and functional procedures if a institution wants to be involved in this type of programs.

The advantage of exchanging students and staff is to promote a long term cooperation between the institutions. In the academic year 93/94 more than a hundred thousand students from the European Union had the opportunity to study abroad.

Naturally, students envisaging a study abroad will be looking for the study programs that are relevant to their final degree and academic recognition which ensures that they will not lose time completing their degree by studying abroad. Curricula in higher education institutions differs in the same country and those differences are increased when institutions are from different countries.

When returning to the home institution students are faced with two main problems. The first one is the recognition of the work in comparison to the work they were supposed to perform at the home institution. The second one is to transform the grades of the host institution to the grading scale of the home institution. These two questions had to be answered adequately to facilitate the student mobility..

Table - Equivalence of grading scales

(City U)11%27%28%17% 17%  

A solution is to use the ECTS rules as indicated in the annex. For grades equivalence a table was made that can be used instead of the statistical analysis.

The experience of three years in the exchange of students at the undergraduate level shows that the use of the ECTS is an indispensable tool to credit the coursework and to transfer the grades between the host and home institutions on a generalized approach. Several situations were tested with and without the help of the ECTS scheme and the conclusion was that it is a formal procedure that should be adopted by all institutions involved in student exchange.

In the case of exchange in specific areas of Civil Engineering, like structures, construction or hydraulics, it is possible to find equivalence between courses in terms of content and thus in terms of workload. However that becomes more complicated if some courses are outside the area of expertise of one of the institutions. The grade transformation is easier if a conversion table, like Table 2, is used but the statistical information is necessary to avoid injustices in terms of grades towards the local or the mobile students like shown in Figure 1.

It is also evident that these recommendations are not sufficient if there is too much rigidity concerning the curriculum or grade transfer. Some professors are not willing to see their courses replace by a course taught in another institution. In other cases some courses are considered mandatory by a group of professors and cannot be replaced by a foreign education. In these cases it is my belief that the institution should not join the student exchange programs.

As a set of practical recommendations for student exchanges it is proposed that actions should be taken at the organizational and functional level. The former are necessary to create the essential framework to join a student exchange program between higher education institutions within the traditional administrative structure of the universiy. The latter are indispensable to facilitate the work of people involved, mainly to those who are not familiar. At organizational level the following measures are recommended:

  1. The coordinator of the mobility should be responsible for the proposal of credit transfer and of grade conversion for each student;
  2. A table like Table 2 should be adopted formally by the institution;
  3. A distribution of the 60 yearly ECTS credits, also named Eurocredits, should be made among the courses, seminars or projects of each normal year;
  4. A office should be prepared to support administrative and perform information tasks about the ECTS scheme;
  5. An information package should be produced for prospective students, incoming and outgoing, containing all ECTS information;
  6. The institution should define the legal entity within the institution that awards the credits and the converted grades;
  7. A clear definition of rules for incomplete work abroad should be adopted.

At the functional level the proposed initiatives are suggested:

  1. A student should not leave the home institution before having a learning agreement, between the student, home and host institution;
  2. The ECTS packages of the participating institutions should be available at each one and updated each academic year;
  3. Each returning student should have as soon as possible a transcript of records of the local and of the ECTS grades and related information;
  4. Each institution must establish a clear procedure for incoming and outgoing students including timetables;
  5. Disseminate within the institution all pertinent information concerning the exchange programs in which in involved for students and staff;
  6. Prepare and enhance a set of forms concerning the main documents used in the different phases of the mobility;
  7. Elaborate a procedures manual for internal and external use.


  1. DALICHOW, F.: Le programme pilot du SETC, CRE-no 96, 1991/4.
  2. KELLY, J.: The ECTS in University College Dublin, CRE-no 97, 1991/4.
  3. ECTS - Erasmus, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Brussels, 1994.
  4. Options for the future developement of ECTS: Generalization scenarios, TFHRETY, Commission of the European Communities, 1993.
  5. ECTS - European Community Course Credit Transfer System, Commission of the European Communities, draft 28, 1993.
  6. Erasmus and Lingua (action II) - applicant guide, Commission of the European unities, 1994.

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