The proposition by the Commission of European credit system for vocational education and training is directly linked to the development of ECTS, to its impact on mobility and on transformation of educational approaches in higher education institutions. On the basis of the conclusions of the report on the "ECTS extension feasibility project", the Commission indicated what could be the next step for credit-based systems. "A new European credit system would increase the transparency of national systems, encourage flexibility in the development of personalised study courses and of joint curricula and facilitate agreements for the mobility of learners, not only between educational sectors in the same country, but also between those of different countries. Credit systems are powerful enabling devices, which aid mobility between various forms of education and training. The application of ECTS to different systems and types of education will facilitate the recognition of learning gained both nationally and internationally" (Erasmus, ECTS extension feasibility project).
In the Copenhagen Declaration of 30 November 2002, the Ministers responsible for Vocational education and training stated that "investigating how transparency, comparability, transferability and recognition of competences and/or qualifications, between different countries and at different levels, could be promoted by developing reference levels, common principles for certification, and common measures, including a credit transfer system for vocational education and training".
This was confirmed by the Maastricht Communiqué on 14 December 2004. The Ministers responsible for vocational education and training (VET) from 32 European countries, together with social partners and the European Commission, agreed on the "development and implementation of the European credit transfer system for VET (ECVET) in order to allow learners to build upon the achievements resulting from their learning pathways when moving between learning systems. ECVET will be based on competences and learning outcomes, taking account of their definition at national or sectoral levels. It will take into account the experience of ECTS in the field of higher education and the Europass framework. The practical implementation should include the development of voluntary agreements between VET providers throughout Europe. The system will be broad-based and flexible to enable its progressive implementation at the national level, with priority given initially to the formal learning system."
And finally the Joint interim report from the Education Council and the Commission on "Education & Training 2010" implementation, stressed the new impetus given by the Copenhagen declaration to European cooperation on vocational education and training and underlined the foundations laid by Ministers responsible for VET of a European credit transfer system for VET.
What is ECVET?

ECVET is designed to facilitate the transfer, accumulation and recognition of people's learning outcomes, from one VET system to another, or from an informal learning situation to a formal learning context.
It requires and promotes transparency of qualifications and learning outcomes, procedures (quality assurance, assessment or recognition), learning processes and pathways, structures.
ECVET is based on the division of qualifications into units and on the description of learning outcomes of each unit using the three descriptors of EQF; knowledge, skills, and competences, making clear the EQF level of reference.
According to the "Technical Specifications" from the Commission concerning ECVET ("European Credit system for VAT: technical specifications",  report of the Credit transfer technical Working Group, on 28 June 2005): "the definition and the description of learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and competences and the organisation of the unit have to be done at national level by the competent body responsible for the relevant qualification and its implementation".
Qualifications and units are represented by a specific number of credit points. Credit points express the volume of learning outcomes in each unit and provide information on the relative weight of the units which make up a qualification.
Progress in implementation of ECVET
The European Commission, on the basis of the Copenhagen declaration mandate, published on 24 September 2004 a document presenting the principles and a reference framework for the implementation of ECVET ("European Credits Transfer System for VET -ECVET- principles and reference framework for implementation") and appointed a Working Group, the Credit Transfer Technical Working Group, to define concretely the new transfer credit system.
This was done in a report from the Working Group on 28 June 2005: "European Credit System for VET (ECVET), Technical Specifications".
On this basis, on 31 October 2006, the Commission launched a consultation - the Commission Staff Working Document: "European Credit System for vocational Education and Training (ECVET)", A system for the transfer, accumulation and recognition of learning outcomes in Europe". The Commission consulted countries participating in "Education & Training 2010", social partners, relevant European Associations and Networks, sectoral organisations and so on, during the period November 2006 to March 2007.
The consultation process was concluded in Munich, during the German presidency, on 4-5 June 2007 with a Conference entitled "Realising the European Learning Area". There was a global agreement on the positive developments that could be expected from EVCET in Europe, but participants also expressed the need for more clarification on some crucial points (such as credit points), for articulation and complementarity and not fusion with ECTS, and for the improvement of ECVET.
Following these generally agreed responses , the Commission appointed a Technical Working Group which worked from July 2007 to September 2007 to work on a revised version. Following that the final version will be prepared for adoption by the Commission in March 2008. On the basis of that decision, testing and experimentation, will be launched, on a voluntary basis, to contribute to the decision process by the Council and by the European Parliament. The decision process will also be informed by the emerging results from projects funded by the Commission in 2006 and 2007.
This slow and careful process of implementation must address the reactions- positive and negative - that appeared during the consultation process. The main problem has arisen from the higher education sector. Most actors, including the representatives of the ministries for higher education, oppose the approach defined by the Commission which seeks to adopt a global transfer system including ECTS in ECVET. Higher education representatives agree to work on the articulation between ECTS and ECVET, but do not want to merge ECTS into ECVET. They also agree that ECTS has to be developed, in particular to introduce programme descriptions in terms of learning outcomes, but they do not want undermine or write off much of the difficult and valuable work done in the last 20 years by universities and other HEIs, in particular the important work done by Tuning. Teachers and curriculum managers in departments and faculties would not understand that what they successfully achieved through a long process of persuasion, and sometimes painful battles, could be replaced by something which does not yet exist.
ECTS started in 1989 within the framework of an Erasmus pilot plan involving 145 higher education institutions. It was set up in the beginning as a credit transfer project. The objective was to recognise periods of study abroad, and thus to increase student mobility in Europe. The first pilot plan has been progressively extended. In 1997-1998, 772 new institutions applied for the introduction of ECTS, 290 one year later.
Progressively, the ECTS system evolved encouraging a wider use of credits. Member States that had signed the Bologna Declaration identified ECTS as a key element of the strategy adopted. The action programme set out in the Declaration identified specified objectives such as ECTS comparable credit systems also covering lifelong learning activities and making possible accumulation. In January 2000, the European Commission published a report on "ECTS extension feasibility project" as a result of a Steering Group work based on the accumulated experiences and on consultations in numerous European countries. Overall, a broadly favourable consensus emerged from this survey. The report concluded: "The current state of the ECTS is relatively healthy and buoyant. It is accepted and used by over 1000 higher education institutions. The tools it uses are tried and tested and have been shown to be effective. However, it does require further embedding within institutions. For the current purposes of credit transfer ECTS works well". In this context, no changes to its procedures and processes are necessary. The principles that underpin ECTS (as a credit transfer system) will also serve to underpin a broader European credit (accumulation) system. However, a number of adaptations and developments to the existing ECTS tools and procedures would be necessary for its application to lifelong learning.
What is the Credit System?

A credit system describes an educational programme by attaching credits to its different components. According to the ECTS users guide: "The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a student centred system based on the student workload required to achieve the objectives of a programme of study. These objectives should preferably specified in terms of learning outcomes and competences to be acquired".
ECTS is based on the principle of 60 credits for a full-time academic year. This means that a credit represents 25 to 30 working hours for a full time student (1500 to 1800 working hours a year).
Student workload is a key concept in ECTS; it means the time required by a learner to complete planned learning activities such as lectures, seminars, independent and private study, projects, examinations, presentations. Credits are allocated to all educational components of a study programme and to all types of programmes, irrespective of their length, composition and nature, including private study and work done by the student outside the ‘classroom'.
The performance of the student is documented by a local or national grade. It is good practice to add an ECTS grade to facilitate credit transfer.
Key documents of ECTS

Three key documents are identified:

  • the regular information package or course catalogue of the institution which must be published in two languages (excepted for programmes taught in English)
  • the learning agreement: a list of courses to be taken with the ECTS awarded for each course
  • the transcript of records: list of courses taken, ECTS gained, local grades and possibly ECTS grades awarded
  • Diploma Supplement

Process of implementation
Conceived initially mainly as a mobility tool, the full implementation of the ECTS arrangements obliges higher education institutions to re-think, to revise, to re-organise their programmes or, at least to present them differently, trying to make them easy to read and compare for local/national or foreign students, and more widely for all people likely to benefit from a higher education programme. ECTS can potentially make higher education more attractive to everyone at home and abroad.
On the European side, the Commission appointed ECTS/Diploma Supplement Counsellors, established in each European country to provide advice on the implementation of the different "tools" of the Bologna process (such as the recognition of periods of study abroad) and to help universities in this perspective. They are higher education personnel who have a longstanding experience in the field.
This strategy was reinforced by the appointment of Bologna Counsellors, who in 2007 became Bologna experts, organised in national teams, bring together academics and students, identified as potential resources for higher institutions and as contributors to national and European debates on the implementation of the Bologna process.
Recently, the Commission decided to award "labels" to institutions that apply ECTS in a correct way in all degree programmes. Each year, some institutions receive this label following a selection process of applications received.
Evolution and debates

A recent document presented by the Commission, ECTS KEY FEATURES, proposes an updated and broader definition of ECTS. "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 be applied to other lifelong learning activities". New ECTS user’s guide.

The most recent definition of ECTS is:
"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 be applied to other lifelong learning activities".
It is clear from this revised definition that progressively the notion of ‘accumulation of credits' leading to qualifications is becoming more important, that the notion of learning outcomes is becoming central and that the processes tends to cover not only programmes of  initial higher education but also lifelong learning provision.
Thus ECTS appears more closely linked to the lifelong learning perspective, to validation of non formal and informal learning, to EQF and NQF.
But such a perspective provokes debate. Currently, the main issue is about what would be the best basis now to define credits: contact hours? workload? or learning outcomes? ECTS has moved the debate from contact hours to student workload but now the challenge is learning outcomes - how does that concept fit with the idea of credit based on workload?
The Tuning project has made as significant contribution to this discussion, trying to link learning outcomes, competences and ECTS workload based credits. Tuning calls for a new concept for ECTS. According their recent report (Universities' contribution to the Bologna process, an introduction , December 2006), it implies the change of the European Credit Transfer System into a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, in which credits no longer have a relative value but an absolute one and are linked to learning outcomes".