Last May, Cedefop held an expert workshop on how credit transfer systems can open doors between vocational and higher education. Participants investigated how credit transfer systems work in practice, and sought complementary and alternative solutions to the challenges these systems face.
While distinct, the current two credit systems – ECTS for higher education and ECVET for vocational education and training – share roles and objectives: they protect the learner by allowing recognition of what has been learnt at other levels or settings.  To progress in both education and career, people often move between higher education and VET, and indeed between education or training and the labour market. This means that while keeping their distinctive features, VET and higher education are becoming more closely intertwined. Higher education now includes more work-based and practical learning; conversely, VET needs to cover analytical and critical thinking, active citizenship, and other values that are essential for today’s society. Because of this partial convergence, vocational and higher education must both ensure that their credit systems are mutually compatible and fair to learners.

Workshop participants discussed technical and conceptual aspects of how credit transfer systems can open doors between higher and vocational education for the benefit of learners. Establishing what these education subsystems have in common clarifies what credits (in effect, what kind of knowledge and skills) can be transferred between them. Thus, achieving the ‘three Cs’ - compatibility, comparability and complementarity – between the two credit transfer systems, and devising the best ways of linking these systems to validation of non-formal and informal learning became a major focus of the workshop.

Some conclusions:


- VET qualifications at higher levels are becoming increasingly common, while both VET and HE are opening up to non-traditional types of learning. This calls for common solutions. For example, the learning outcomes approach - the cornerstone of the ECVET system - is now also being integrated into the ECTS.

- At higher education levels, where the two credit systems now run in parallel, having two compatible systems is a bare minimum. A single credit system at higher EQF levels (5 and up) would be preferable for at least four reasons:

  • It is less confusing for learners
  • By using a common yardstick for all it increases transparency
  • It treats higher education and VET on a basis of equality, thus encouraging parity of esteem;
  • To the rest of the world, it displays the coherence of European educational systems

- It became clear during discussions on the permeability of HE and VET that while access and admission is adequately covered by system-level solutions outside credit transfer systems, exemption (that is, recognising previous knowledge as equivalent to that obtained in another system) is not. This is where credit transfer systems can play the crucial role in bringing the two systems closer together. 

- The most contentious issue was the necessity and calculation method of credit points. All experts agreed that credit transfer and accumulation systems might also work in the absence of credit points. But experience from the ECTS as well as from countries that have developed credit transfer systems for VET (Slovenia, UK Scotland, Malta) shows that not using credit points may compromise transparency.

In all cases, it is necessary to express progress in learning. Presenting it as a list of learning outcomes (when some programmes may have hundreds of learning outcomes) is simply not practical. Credit points are necessary if credits are to be transferred between higher and vocational education and training.

- Apart from questioning credit points in general, some ECVET team representatives objected to calculating credit points based on workload, arguing that this runs contrary to the logic of validation systems. But learning is always built in time. The French example of validation of non-formal and informal learning (using ECTS) showed that individuals reach high levels (university) of learning outcomes after an average of 8 years of work-experience. Credit transfer systems both within and outside Europe all base credit points on workload, as it is difficult to measure and translate learning outcomes alone into credit points. Thus, ECTS and ECVET can start operating together only if stakeholders agree on a clear method of calculating ECVET points.