Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Recognition of a unit of learning, usually measured in hours of study or achievement of threshold standard or both.

explanatory context

 Roscher (2003) recommends differentiating between a credit system and a credit framework, thus defining what a credit system is: a credit system sets the rules for calculating the credit value of learning outcomes. Constituents of a credit system are the credits, levels, learning outcomes, modules, etc. A credit framework allows accumulation and transfer of credits and a large degree of international compatibility. Each credit system is embedded in principles and rules determining the fields of application and of validity and the contents/processes of studying (particular contents, teaching, learning or examination styles, etc.)


According to the definition of the European Commission for ECTS, a credit system is a systematic way of describing an educational programme by attaching credits to its components. The definition of credits in higher education systems may be based on different parameters, such as student workload, learning outcomes and contact hours. A credit system provides a formal mechanism that facilitates the exchange or accumulation of individual units and can be compared with a bureau de change (Le Mouillour, 2005, p. 36)


Le Mouillour (2005, p. 36) explains that a credit framework is a set of specifications for valuing, measuring, describing and comparing learning achievement. It simply provides a standardised means of representing learning achieved, enabling comparison of learning required in different programmes and qualifications and thus facilitating the building up of credit by learners and/or the transfer of achieved learning between programmes and/or between institutions.

analytical review

The UNESCO definition is:

A credit is a generally agreed-upon value used to measure a student workload in terms of learning time required to complete course units, resulting in learning outcomes. Generally, once gained, credit cannot be lost. (Vlãsceanu, et al., 2004, p. 31)


The Scottish Qualification Authority defines credit as:

the amount of time that an 'average' learner at a specified level might expect to take to achieve the outcomes (SQA, 2003, p. 6).

One credit point represents the amount of work at a particular level achieved by an 'average' learner in ten hours. (University of Abeerdeen, 2010)


The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (EU, 2004) similarly defines ECTS credits as:

The currency to measure student workload in terms of notional learning time required to achieve specified learning outcomes.


The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA, undated) in the UK states:

Credit(s): A means of quantifying and recognising learning, used by most institutions that provide higher education programmes of study, expressed as numbers of credits at a specific level. See also credit level, credit value, credit accumulation and transfer schemes.

Credit value: The number of credits at a specified credit level, indicating the amount and difficulty of the learning achieved, based on notional hours of learning.

Credit level: An indicator of the relative complexity, depth and autonomy of learning associated with a particular module, used in credit frameworks.

Credit level descriptor:A statement of the generic characteristics of learning at a specific credit level, used as a reference point for those designing programmes of study.

Credit framework: A published formal structure that states the credit value typically associated with programmes and qualifications, and that generally includes credit level descriptors.

The New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) (2009) define credits as follows

Credits allocated to unit standards reflect the notional learning time expected for candidates to meet the outcome and performance requirements in those unit standards. (Actual learning time will, of course, vary from candidate to candidate.) Notional learning time includes time spent in structured tuition and self paced learning and practice; time taken to gather and provide evidence for assessment purposes; and time taken to be assessed in all the outcomes and contexts..


The South Africa Qualification Authority (SAQA, 2000, p. 9). also defines credit on ‘notional learning hours’.


Despite referring specifically to equivalence of learning and standards, the University of Exeter (2004) also utilises a time-based definition:

A quantified means of expressing equivalence of learning. Credit is awarded to a learner in recognition of the verified achievement of learning outcomes at a specified level. One credit equates to 10 notional hours of learning successfully achieved and works on the basis of achievement at threshold standard.


The Irish Higher Education Authority defines credit thus:

Credit: Certification that part or all of a course has been completed successfully (HEA, 2004)

Credit Common Accord for Wales adds explanation of what can an cannot be awarded:

Credit: An award made to a learner in recognition of the achievement of designated learning outcomes at a specified credit level. Credit is only awarded following quality assured assessment of achievement.

No additional credit can be awarded for achievement over the threshold level (established by the learning outcomes and assessment criteria) although such achievement can be recognised through the award of marks or grades.

No credit should be awarded for units where the learning outcomes have not been achieved.(QCA/LSC, 2004)


In the US,The Common Data Set statess:

Credit: Recognition of attendance or performance in an instructional activity (course or program) that can be applied by a recipient toward the requirements for a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award.

The Northeast Texas Network Consortium (NTNC, 2002) define credit as:

A credit is the value assigned to a course. Usually one credit equals one 50 minute class period per week. Many courses carry 3 credits and meet for three 50 minute periods a week.


The Indiana College Network (ICN) (2003) and NTNC (2002) identify credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing programmes, using identical definitions:

credit course: a class with specified learning goals which the student is required to meet in order to pass the course and that may be applied toward the fulfilment of degree requirements at a college or university

non-credit: a class that typically meets only once or just a few times and that contributes toward personal or occupational development rather than being applicable toward a college degree.

London Metropolitan University (2007):

Credit: A quantified means of expressing equivalence of learning. Credit is awarded to a student in recognition of the verified achievement of designated learning outcomes at a specified level. Achievement at a standard above the ‘threshold’ for the award of credit can be recognised through the award of marks and grades, but not by the award of a greater volume or higher level of credit than that which is assigned to the module or award.

Le Mouillour (2005, p. 34–39) distinguishes between credit and credit point:

The term credit points is used in reference to the numerical and accountancy system of points towards the value of a full training programme; the term credits refers to the content of a qualification, the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competences, i.e. the codified results of learning activities which might be aggregated in learning units. Credit points are based on a convention....As a basis for the survey on introducing credits in VET we will use the definition of credits as smallest units of measurement of learning progress made.

The guidelines produced jointly by CQFW/NICATS/NUCCAT/SEEC (2001) distinguish between credit value and credit level:

The credit value defines the nominal size of the module and reflects the estimated notional learning hours. In addition, the credits must be set within the context of the specified credit level.... Credit levels are indicators of the relative demand expected of a learner. They are related to, but are different from, the qualification levels introduced in the QAA qualification frameworks. The latter indicate the principal outcomes that the student should be able to demonstrate following the completion of awards at the designated level. The credit levels belong to a series of levels based upon progression....Since credit is a measure of learning equivalence, credits play an important role in defining academic standards. However, credits and levels need to be complemented by other information contained in the programme specifications of the qualification

AEC (2004) refers to credit point system:

Credit Point System: A system in which the total volume of study carried out by a student during the year (taught time plus independent study time) is given a numerical value. This value is then sub-divided to correspond to the various subjects, units or modules which the student takes. The number of credit points gained is not itself a measure of the standard achieved. If a student fails the unit, he or she gets no credits; if they pass, they get all the credits for the unit. Credits can be useful in course design in that they offer a measure of relative volume of the various elements of the course.  Increasingly, they are used to enable learning in one institution to be recognised by another. This facilitates mobility.

For Charles Sturt University, Division of Student Administration (2011) there seems to be a different meaning; essentially awarding prior credit, which is similar to credit accumulation and acreditation of prior learning:

Credit: A subject in which a student is not required to enrol thereby reducing the number of subjects needed to complete the course.

This is further elaborated in Charles Sturt University, Glossary (2011):

Credit: if you have previously studied, perhaps at TAFE, or have other Recognised Prior Learning (RPL), you may be able to receive credit for a subject or subjects in your course.

associated issues

Le Mouillour (2005, p. 35) outlines the functions of a credit system:

A review of the different existing credit systems (in HE and VET) indicates the following list of functions that are to be fulfilled by a credit system:

• transfer of learning outputs/outcomes within and between various national VET systems and between formal, non-formal and informal VET, providing bridging mechanisms between various learning pathways;

• accumulation and mutual recognition of training/education/learning activities (modules), or qualification units/programmes towards a partial or a complete qualification, by contributing to the definition, assessment and certification of parts or full qualifications; this is independent of when and where this learning has taken place;

• cooperation between training providers, teachers and learners beyond national frontiers;

• transparency of learning processes and outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and competences acquired by the individual learners, of the structure of VET study programmes;

• mobility within training/education/learning processes and professional mobility by improving the description of complete qualifications;

• flexibilisation of learning periods, of content and of study programmes;

• simplifying certification and recognition procedures: possibility for partial/full certification, recognition of study performance in case of mobility.

related areas

See also

credit accumulation

credit transfer

European Credit Transfer Scheme


Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Charles Sturt University, 2011, Glossary, available at, accessed 20 September 2012, not available 21 June 2019.

Charles Sturt University, Division of Student Administration, 2011, Glossary of Terms, available at accessed 31 January 2011, not available 6 July 2012.

CQFW/NICATS/NUCCAT/SEEC, 2001, Credits and HE qualifications: credit guidelines for HE qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. London: NICATS, available at, accesses 10 October 2012, not available 20 June 2019.

European Union (EU), 2004, ECTS Users’ Guide – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System for Lifelong Learning, European Commission. Published summer  2004.

Higher Education Authority (HEA) [of Ireland] 2004, Glossary, no longer available, 29 January 2011.

Indiana College Network (ICN), 2007, ‘Glossary' available at, updated 15 February 2007, accessed 20 September 2012, still available 21 June 2019.

Le Mouillour, I., 2005, European Approaches to Credit (transfer) Systems in VET: An assessment of the applicability of existing credit systems to a European credit (transfer) system for vocational education and training (ECVET), European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) Dossier series; 12 Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

London Metropolitan University , 2007, Glossary of Terminology available at$related-information/apel/apelforstudents/glossary.cfm, last updated 24 September 2007, accessed 20 September 2012, not available 20 June 2019.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), 2009, Definitions and Explanations, , accessed 20 September 2012.

Northeast Texas Network Consortium (NTNC), 2002, Distance Learning College Glossary. , accessed 20 September 2012, not available 21 June 2019.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Learning + Skills Council (QCA /LSC) 2004, Principles for a credit framework for England: Terms and definitions, pp. 11–13. March (London: QCA /LSC). Uses definitions from the Credit Common Accord for Wales published in July 2003.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 7 January 2017, not available 21 June 2019.

Roscher, F., 2003, ‘Das operative Regelwerk von Credit-Systemen’, in Schwarz, S. and Teichler, U., Credits an deutschen Hochschulen. Kleine Einheiten – Große Wirkung. Neuwied: Luchterhand, pp. 45–53.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), 2003, An Introduction to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, Second edition, available at, October 2003, Publication code: AE1243/2, accessed 17 February 2011, not available 6 July 2012.

South African Qualifications Authority, (SAQA), 2000, The National Qualifications Framework and Standards Setting, (Pretoria, SAQA).

University of Exeter, 2004,  TQA Manual, Learning and Teaching Definitions, Last updated 31 August, 2004. Page no longer available, 31 January 2011.

Vlãsceanu, L., Grünberg, L., and Pârlea, D., 2004, Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions (Bucharest, UNESCO-CEPES) Papers on Higher Education, ISBN 92-9069-178-6.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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