Credit transfer – It’s time for harmonisation

At the final meeting of the Tuning Africa Phase II in Brussels, Belgium in November 2017, the African Credit Transfer System and the Workload Regime were formally unveiled for dialogue and future endorsement. The draft document had been already disseminated and input was incorporated prior to this general conference which brought together more than 150 participants, mostly from Africa but also from Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The genesis

Tuning Africa was launched in 2010 as an initiative of the African and European Union Commissions, managed on their behalf by the Tuning Academy based at the University of Deusto (Spain) and jointly run with the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Since its inception, the initiative has seen the implementation of a feasibility phase, a first pilot phase and is now concluding its second phase.

During the first phase, the initiative drew 60 universities and worked in five subject area groups: Agricultural Sciences, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine and Teacher Education.

Based on the success of the first phase and following the adoption of the 4th EU-Africa Heads of State Summit action programme for 2014-17, the second phase kicked off with 127 participants from 107 universities in 41 countries, embracing three more subject groups: Economics, Geology and Higher Education Management (the only postgraduate programme).

Geopolitical significance

Developing a credit transfer system is critical to advancing (sub)regional integration, harmonisation of systems, and mobility of students, academics and professionals. Africa recognised the importance of these imperatives when it envisioned the Arusha Convention in 1981 – two decades prior to the conception of the Bologna Process in 1999.

The Arusha Convention was rekindled at a major event in Addis Ababa in 2014; hence it is now called the ‘Addis Ababa Convention’.

The key elements of the convention speak of, among others, promoting inter-regional and international cooperation in the field of recognition of qualifications; defining and putting in place effective quality assurance and accreditation mechanisms at the national, regional and continental levels; and facilitating the exchange and greater mobility of students and academics.

Global perspectives


The European Credit Transfer System, or ECTS, was first developed as an instrument to support credit transfer between higher education institutions in the framework of student mobility organised under the European Commission's Erasmus programme. Initially it was predominantly based on teaching inputs, but it has progressively evolved into a system used for both credit accumulation and credit transfer in the framework of transnational mobility as well as for mobility within a country or within a single institution.

Consideration of student workload covers all learning activities including the teaching hours, independent work and practical assignments, among others. In ECTS, 60 credits are allocated to a full-time year of formal learning. One credit is typically between 25 and 30 hours of workload.

Latin America

The Latin American Reference Credit, or CLAR, has been devised as a unit of value for calculating a workload, measured in hours, required to be carried out by a student in order to attain learning outcomes and pass a subject or teaching period.

CLAR recognises an annual full-time student workload to be equivalent to 60 credits. Use of this normaliser was approved at the Tuning Latin America Project in 2011, taking into account two key points:
  • • Its divisibility, which enables it to be easily adapted to diverse ways of structuring the academic year (six-, four- and three-month periods and modules);
  • • Its wide use in other parts of the world, which would thus facilitate its understanding and compatibility.
As a general rule, if one (academic) year of full-time study is equivalent to 60 credits, then one semester equates to 30 credits. Thus, in accordance with existing degree courses and programmes in different countries, a four- or five- or seven-year programme would equate to 240, 300 or 420 credits respectively. The workload assigned to a CLAR credit is defined by a record of the total amount of time a student sets aside to learning on an annual basis – and thus has no single value.

The United States

Two major credit systems exist in the United States, including a few local ones in certain higher education institutions. The two major credit systems are the semester-hours of credit and the quarter hours of credit. The ‘semester hours of credit’ system is the most commonly used.

Overall, the US credit systems are closely related to the education and training programmes and instructional hours. The credit system is based on how the inputs are organised and thus the weight of credit points is based wholly on the inputs.


Credit transfer systems designed to be used specifically among universities in the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, member states is a fairly recent phenomenon. Traditionally, recognition of periods of studies abroad involving the ASEAN region had been carried out on a case-by-case basis. Although no global credit transfer system for the ASEAN region currently exists, certain systems are used to help streamline the process.

Three major credit transfer systems are in use in the region: the AUN (ASEAN University Network) ASEAN Credit Transfer System (AUN-ACTS), the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific Credit Transfer Scheme (UMAP-UCTS), and the SEAMEO-RIHED Academic Credit Transfer Framework (AIMS). Of these, the AUN-ACTS is the only credit system exclusive to intra-ASEAN mobility. These systems have been created to meet a variety of interests and motivations.

The African experience

There is no common and reliable means of measuring and transferring acquired knowledge in Africa. In some countries the concept of credit has limited understanding, leading to a variety of meanings and different applications. There thus remains a compelling need to understand and recognise the different types of credit systems used in different parts of Africa and to make an effort to harmonise them.

A study was carried out to investigate the different types of credit systems in African countries as part of the Tuning Africa Phase II Initiative which involved surveying 571 academics and 5,266 students. It is anticipated that this endeavour will facilitate mobility and the transferability of studies within the continent by promoting comparability of degrees, diplomas and certificates.

The benefit of a streamlined continental credit system is self-evident for the development of the African higher education space in particular, and the integration of the continent in general. It will further facilitate international mobility and exchanges, develop more concrete initiatives to support qualifications recognition and enhance academic mobility within and between Africa and Europe, as was reiterated by the heads of state at the 5th AU-EU Summit in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in November 2017.

Credits in Africa

In the African countries and regions studied, credits are variably weighted. A credit load may be made up of 20-25 hours of teaching and learning hours, or it may be one hour of teaching over a period of 15-16 hours, or it may be practical classes of two to three hours over a semester made up of 15-16 weeks.

In Eastern and Central Africa, contact hours and independent work of students are employed in determining the value of credits. Accordingly, one unit is equivalent to 10 notional hours; one credit is equivalent to 15-18 contact hours or student workload; and one unit is equivalent to 15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of independent work.

In many countries in West Africa, contact hours are used in determining credits. Accordingly, one credit is equivalent to one contact hour or three hours of practical or one hour of tutorial per week, for 15 weeks. The annual credit load varies from institution to institution and from country to country.

Among the 35 countries covered in this survey, 25 have national regulatory agencies. Three of the five countries in this study in North Africa have national regulatory agencies, although all of them are committed to the Licentiate-Masters-Doctorate, or LMD, reforms.

The credit load for various programmes differs among the regions. However, a common credit point per year stands as 60 units across the continent.


Studies indicate a variety of regional workload regimes, but these do not appear to differ greatly from each other. In Latin America, the number ranges from 1,440-1,980 hours. Based on a parallel study undertaken in Africa involving 571 academics and 5,266 students in 107 institutions, the number stood between 1,350 and 1,850 hours.


The African higher education sector is growing in leaps and bounds. Yet the processes and the regimes that are key for credit transfer are woefully lacking; hence this endeavour to establish the African Credit Transfer System as well as the Workload Regime.

Globally, the common practice for credits appear to be 60 per year. It is thus apt for Africa to adopt this norm as part of the global higher education community, in its collective effort to harmonise the higher education sector in particular and the integration of the continent as a whole.

Damtew Teferra is professor of higher education, leader of Higher Education and Training Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa. He is a member of the management committee of the Tuning Africa II Project and chairs its research cluster. Teferra also steers the Higher Education Cluster of the Africa Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa, or CESA, coordinated by the Association of African Universities.

The contributions and comments of Dr Pablo Beneitone, director of the Tuning Academy, and Ms Deirdre Lennan, international policy officer at the European Commission DG Education and Culture, to this piece are acknowledged.