Shakespeare wrote that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Can the same be said of international credit? One of our most frequently asked questions at Scholaro is around the conversion of higher education credits from one country system to another. Many feel that in conversion, their credit loses the value that it held in the original system. In this article we will review some of the most common systems of credit around the world and touch on how credential evaluators convert credits.
The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is probably the credit system encountered most frequently in Scholaro evaluations. ECTS credits were piloted from 1989-1995 and implemented as part of the Bologna Process reforms in the 2000s to create a single European Higher Education Area (EHEA) that promotes educational mobility between EU countries. ECTS measures the notional full-time workload of studies completed by students, typically representing 1500-1800 hours per year or a standard 60 ECTS per full-time academic year. This amount of study time includes all planned learning activities including lectures, seminars, homework, and independent study. There are currently 49 member countries of the Bologna Process which use ECTS or a credit system that aligns with ECTS to improve mobility.
The ECTS credit system is not restricted to the EHEA. Many countries around the world, particularly in Africa and central Asia have adopted Bologna-style reforms and implemented a credit system which aligns with ECTS at 60 credits per full-time academic year. If the standard credit workload at your university is 60 credits per year, you likely are working in an ECTS or ECTS-inspired system.
The Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) is the most commonly used system of credit in the United Kingdom system of higher education. One CATS credit is nominally representative of 10 hours of notional learning and one full-time academic year is 120 CATS. Notional hours of learning in the UK include course time, study time, homework, and time required to complete all assignments. The UK allows grants much autonomy to their higher education institutions, so you may find institutions which use ECTS, CATS, or no credit system at all. Comprehensive guidelines on UK credits suggest that 2 CATS are equivalent to 1 ECTS.
In South Africa, the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) credit is defined as part of the National Qualification Framework, set into place by law in 1995. A credit represents 10 notional hours of learning and undergraduate level programs hold a standard full-time load of 120 SAQA credits per academic year. Notional hours of learning in South Africa are defined as, “time that it is conceived it would take an average learner to meet the outcomes defined, and includes concepts such as contact time, time spent in structured learning in the workplace and individual learning.”
USA Semester Calendar Credit Hours
The Semester Calendar Credit Hours system is the most commonly used system of higher education credits in the United States. Like the United Kingdom, institutions in the US have a large amount of autonomy in defining and using credits. This system can be called by many names: credits, semester credits, semester hours, credit hours, or semester credit hours, all generally meaning the same value of learning. One semester credit hour typically represents one structured hour of learning and two independent hours of work per week over the course of a 15–16-week semester. Most courses have a value of 3 semester credit hours or 45 hours of in class work plus 90 hours of additional preparation or studying. A typical academic year for undergraduate courses is 30-36 semester credit hours.
Putting it all Together
The above credit systems are an example of the variety of credit systems that exist in education systems around the world, ranging from Swedish (poäng) to Australian credit points. With all these different systems of credit around the world, how does Scholaro compare and convert credits to ensure that the value of learning earned in one country is properly credited in another? For systems with strict guidelines, such as ECTS, CATS, and SAQA credits, there are standard accepted conversion rates. The table below shows our most common conversion rates of these systems:
Foreign Credit Value
United States Value
1.00 ECTS (Europe)
0.50 US credits
1.00 CATS (United Kingdom)
0.25 US credits
1.00 SAQA (South Africa)
0.25 US credits
Scholaro is not alone in considering ECTS credits as 2:1 to US credits. Additional resources on this conversion can be found at:
For systems with less defined credit systems, conversion is based on the assumption that one year of full-time studies in one country is equivalent to one year of full-time studies in any other country in the world. At Scholaro, conversion of foreign academic hours is also calculated on the assumption that the average number of credits for one year of full-time academic study in the United States varies from 18 to 24 semester hours for graduate programs and 30 to 36 semester hours for undergraduate programs. At first glance, conversion of credits may seem like a loss of value, but the proper conversion of credits is essential for understanding the value of foreign credits compared to the US system. Accurate conversion of credits from one system to another allows recipients of your Scholaro evaluation report to understand the value of your education in the context of their own country’s system.