Glossary of terms




Acquired or natural capacity, competence, proficiency or talent that enables an individual to perform a particular act, job or task successfully.


Certain qualifications convey the holder with the right to access specific qualifications at a particular education level within the education system in which the qualification was taken. For instance a first cycle degree usually provides access to second cycle studies.


Accreditation is the establishment of the status, legitimacy or appropriateness of an institution, programme or module of study by a designated competent authority.

Accreditation organisation

A designated competent authority which is legally entitled to accredit an institution, programme or module of study within the context of a national education system.

Assessment criteria

Descriptions of what the learner is expected to do and to what level, in order to demonstrate that a learning outcome has been achieved and to what extent.  The criteria are usually related to the cycle and/or level descriptors for the module being studied in the discipline concerned. They are normally presented to the students in course catalogues or similar documentation along with the intended learning outcomes, syllabus, etc., at the beginning of the course unit.

Assessment methods

The total range of methods used to evaluate the learner’s achievement in a course unit or module. Typically, these methods include written, oral, laboratory, practical tests/examinations, projects, performances and portfolios. The evaluations may be used to enable the learners to evaluate their own progress and improve on previous performance (formative assessment) or by the institution to judge whether the learner has achieved the learning outcomes of the course unit or module (summative assessment).


Complex mental state involving beliefs, feelings, values and dispositions to act in certain ways.

Academic Awarding institution

A university or other higher education institution which awards degrees, diplomas, certificates or credits at tertiary level.


A standard, used for comparison.

See also: Subject benchmark statements

Cohort or Class

A group of students that started a particular degree programme or course at the same time. 


Competences represent a dynamic combination of cognitive and metacognitive skills, knowledge and understanding, interpersonal, intellectual and practical skills, and ethical values. Fostering these competences is the object of all educational programmes. Competences are developed in all course units and assessed at different stages of a programme. Some competences are subject-area related (specific to a field of study), others are generic (common to any degree course). It is

normally the case that competence development proceeds in an integrated and cyclical manner throughout a programme.

Competent authority

Person or organization that has the legally delegated or invested authority, capacity, or power to perform a designated function.

Contact hour

A period of 45-60 minutes of teaching/learning activity in which a staff member is engaged face to face with a learner or group of learners. 

Continuing professional development/education

Continuing professional development (CPD) is the means by which people at work maintain, improve and broaden their knowledge and skills and develop the personal qualities required in their professional lives.  Some may wish to do this through undertaking a complete further degree programme, while others may opt to take specific modules or course units appropriate to their learning and professional interests.

See also Lifelong Learning.

Continuous assessment

A system of assessment in which work is assessed throughout the programme or course unit and does not rest on a final examination.  Marks achieved often contribute to a final overall mark the final assessment total for the student, either for the unit, the year of study or for the programme.


Convergence involves the voluntary recognition and adoption of general policies for the achievement of common goals. Convergence in the architecture of national educational systems is pursued in the Bologna process. The Tuning Project seeks to identify points of convergence while recognizing and sharing knowledge about the variety of practice with broad agreed frameworks.


Often used as a synonym for programme or course unit.  Tuning has adopted the term programme to designate a complete programme of study leading to a degree, and course unit for smaller units of structured teaching and learning in such a programme.

Course unit

A self-contained, formally structured learning experience. It should have a coherent and explicit set of learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences to be obtained, and appropriate assessment criteria. Course units can have different numbers of credits.


Coursework refers to the required - normally assessed - learning activities within a course unit or module.

Credential evaluation

Comparing and assessing foreign qualifications, facilitating the integration of national education systems.


The ‘currency’ used to measure student workload in terms of the time required to achieve specified learning outcomes. It enables staff and students to assess the volume and level of learning, based on the achievement of learning outcomes and the associated workload measured in time. Credit can be awarded to a learner in recognition of the verified achievement of designated outcomes at a specific level through work based learning or prior learning as well as through coursework. Credit cannot normally be lost once achieved, although in particular circumstances an institution can lay down that credits must have been awarded within a certain timeframe to be recognized as part of the study programme. This will be the case in subject areas where knowledge and skills are subject to rapid change, e.g. Informatics, Medicine, etc.

See also Student Workload and Intended Learning Outcomes.

Credit accumulation

Credit accumulation is the process of collecting credits for learning within degree programmes. In a credit accumulation system a specified number of credits must be obtained in order to complete successfully a study programme or part thereof, according to the requirements of the programme.  Credits are awarded and accumulated only when the successful achievement of the required learning outcomes is confirmed by assessment.  Learners can use the credit accumulation system to transfer or ‘cash in’ credits achieved from work-based learning/different programmes within and between educational institutions. Credits are also transferable between programmes in the same institution, between different institutions within the same country, or internationally (often with certain limits about the proportion of the total that can be transferred).  The process allows learners to study individual units and modules without immediately achieving an academic award, and also allows for the award of interim awards where students do not complete a full programme leading to the award of a degree.  In every case it is the Institution that will award the degree that decides which credits earned elsewhere can be accepted as part of the work required for the degree.

Credit level

An indicator of the relative demands of learning and of learner autonomy in a given course unit or module. It is typically based on the complexity and depth of learning and is sometimes associated with the year of study (e.g. level 1/2/3 over a three year programme), or the type of course content. (e.g. Basic/Intermediate /Advanced).

Criterion-referenced assessment

In this form of assessment particular outcomes, i.e. knowledge, understanding, skills, abilities and/or attitudes are specified as criteria for ‘passing’ the assessment. Criterion-referenced assessment can be associated with the desired and/or ‘threshold minimum’ of the learning outcome to be achieved. In norm-referenced assessment learners are evaluated in relation to one another, usually within their cohort. The latter system of assessment, alone, is not compatible with competence based curricula.


All European higher education qualifications are located within three cycles. One of the objectives indicated in the Bologna Declaration was the “adoption of a system based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate.” Doctoral studies are now included in the Bologna structure and referred to as the third cycle.

Cycle (level) descriptors

Generic statements of the broad expected outcomes of each of the three cycles.  A good example of general cycle (level) descriptors are the so-called Dublin Descriptors, which have been developed by a group of experts, the Joint Quality Initiative. (JQI). These descriptors have served as one of foundations (along with ECTS) for the Framework For Qualifications Of The European Higher Education Area.

See also Dublin Descriptors, European Qualifications Framework and Level Descriptors


A formal qualification awarded by a higher education institution after successful completion of a prescribed study programme. In a credit accumulation system the programme is completed through the accumulation of a specified number of credits awarded for the achievement of a specific set of learning outcomes.

Degree Profile


A Degree Profile describes the specific characteristics of an educational programme or qualification in terms of learning outcomes and competences, following an agreed format.

Degree programme


A set of coherent educational components, based on learning outcomes, that are recognized for the award of a specific qualification through the accumulation of a specified number of credits and the development of specified competences..



Generic statements of the outcomes of study for a qualification. They provide clear points of reference that describe the main outcomes of a qualification, as defined in the National Frameworks, and make clear the nature of change between levels.

Diploma Supplement


The Diploma Supplement is an annex to the official degree/qualification designed to provide a description of the nature, level, context, content and status of the studies that were pursued and successfully completed by the holder of the degree/qualification. It is based on the model developed by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES. It facilitates international transparency and the academic/professional recognition of qualifications.

Directive EC/36/2005


Directive EC/36/2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications. European Directive 2005/36/EC aids mobility by obliging Member States to consider the qualifications acquired elsewhere in the Community to allow access to a regulated profession in their territory.



A formally presented written report, based on independent research/ enquiry/project work, which is required for the award of a degree (generally a first or a second degree or a doctorate). It may also be called a thesis.

See also: thesis

Doctorate or Doctoral degree

A qualification awarded after completion of third cycle study.  It includes a substantial amount of original research work which is normally presented in a thesis.

Dublin Descriptors

The Dublin Descriptors provide very general statements of typical expectations of achievements and abilities associated with awards that represent the end of a Bologna cycle. General level descriptors have been developed for the ‘short cycle

within the first cycle’ and the first, second and third cycle. The descriptors consist of a set of criteria, phrased in terms of competence levels, which enables to distinguish in a broad and general manner between the different cycles. The following five sets of criteria are distinguished:

•       Acquiring knowledge and understanding

•       Applying knowledge and understanding

•       Making informed judgments and choices

•       Communicating knowledge and understanding

•       Capacities to continue learning

The Dublin descriptors have been developed by an international group of experts, which has named itself the Joint Quality Initiative (JQI). The work of the JQI and Tuning is considered complementary by both parties.


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.


A course unit that may be taken as part of a study programme but is not compulsory for all students.

European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF-LLL)

A European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is an overarching framework that makes transparent the relationship between European national (and/or sectoral) educational frameworks of qualifications and the qualifications they contain. It is an articulation mechanism between national frameworks. At present two European Qualifications Frameworks exist. One focuses only on Higher Education and has been initiated as

part of the Bologna Process, the other focuses on the whole span of education and has been initiated by the European Commission. The first framework is named a Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area, abbreviated

as QF – EHEA (see below). The second extends across all areas including that of higher education and is called European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning, abbreviated as EQF - LLL.

The EQF - LLL, adopted by the 47 countries participating in the Bologna Process, is a system that aims to: Enable learners (citizens, employers, etc.) across Europe to understand the full range and relationship between the various national, local and regional European higher education qualifications Promote access, flexibility, mobility, collaboration, transparency, recognition and integration (links) within, and between,

European higher education systems. Defend diversity, in the content and delivery of educational programmes and therefore national, local, regional and institutional academic autonomy. Improve the competitiveness and efficiency of European higher


See also: National Qualifications Framework


Evaluation of teaching and academic studies in a subject or department and the related degree programmes comprises all those activities which aim at assessing quality and fitness for purpose and of purpose.  Strengths and weaknesses of education and training can be identified by stocktaking, analysis and proposals formulated to ensure the sustainability of quality.  Evaluation may be carried out through both internal and external procedures. Internal evaluation comprises the systematic collection of administrative data and obtaining feedback from staff, students and graduates, as well as holding structured conversations with lecturers and students. External evaluation may include visits by a review team to the department in order to review the quality of the academic studies and teaching, the use of external examiners, external accreditation, etc. 

A significant element in enhancing quality is ensuring that internal and external procedures are used to improve student learning.

Examination (Exam)

Generally a formal written or oral test taken at set points (e.g. end of a semester or term, mid-semester or term) or at the end of a programme, module or course unit.

First cycle degree

A higher education qualification awarded after successful completion of first cycle studies which, according to the Bologna Declaration, should normally last a minimum of three years or 180 ECTS credits.

Generic competences


Generic Competences are also known as transferable skills or general academic skills. They are general to any degree programme and can be transferred from one context to another.


Any numerical or qualitative measure, based on well-defined criteria, which is used to describe the results of assessment in an individual module or course unit or in a complete study programme.

Higher education

Higher education applies to academic programmes of study that may be entered by students holding either an appropriate school leaving certificate from an upper secondary school or other relevant professional qualifications or approved prior learning and/or prior experience. Providers may be universities, universities of professional studies, higher education institutions, colleges, polytechnics etc.

Intended learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes are statements – made by the academic staff – of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning. Learning outcomes must be accompanied by appropriate assessment criteria which can be used to judge whether the expected learning outcomes have been achieved. Learning outcomes, together with assessment criteria, specify the requirements for the award of credit, while grading is based on attainment above or below the requirements for the award of credit. Credit accumulation and transfer is facilitated if clear learning outcomes are available to indicate with precision the achievements for which the credit will be awarded.

International recognition


1. Methodologies and procedures to understand foreign qualifications and establish their comparability in view of further studies or employment.

2. A formal acknowledgement by a competent authority of the standing of a foreign educational qualification with a view to access to educational and/or employment activities.

Key competences


Key Competences are the most important competences that the graduate will have obtained as a result of completing a specific degree programme.



Anyone who acquires new knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, or understanding, which may involve synthesizing different types of information.

Learning outcomes


A Learning Outcome may be described as a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning. Learning outcomes are expressed in terms of the level of competence to be obtained by the learner. They relate to level descriptors in national and European qualifications frameworks.

See also: Programme learning outcome

Level (cycle) descriptors


Generic statements describing the characteristics and context of learning expected at each level against which learning outcomes and assessment criteria can be reviewed.



Levels are understood to be a series of sequential steps to be taken by the learner (within a development continuum) expressed in terms of a range of generic outcomes, within a given programme. They can also reflect the expected outcomes of degree programme in terms of cycle level descriptors



The term module has different meanings in different countries. In some it means a course unit; in others a module is a group of course units. In others again course units are made up of a number of modules. In Tuning a module is defined as a course unit or a combination of course units in a system in which each course unit carries the same number of credits or a multiple thereof.

See also: course unit

National register


Official national listing of state recognized programmes/ institutions/qualifications/ professions

National Qualifications Framework


A national framework of qualifications is a single description, at national level or level of an educational system, which is internationally understood. The framework describes all qualifications awarded in the system considered and relates them to each other in a coherent way. One very clear example is that of the Republic of Ireland

See also: Qualifications Descriptors.

Optional subject/course


A course unit that may be taken as part of a study programme but is not compulsory for all students.

Programme Learning Outcomes

A coherent set of 15 to 20 statements expressing what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to do after successful completion of a degree programme.

Progression (paths)


The process which enables learners to pass from one level of competence acquisition to the next.

Protected titles

Certain professional titles are legally protected and may only be used by people who have undergone specific training as outlined by the relevant professional body.



Any degree, diploma or other certificate issued by a competent authority attesting the successful completion of a recognized programme of study

Qualification descriptors


Generic statements of the outcomes of study. They provide clear points of reference that describe the main outcomes of a qualification often with reference to national levels.

Qualifications Framework for the European Higher

Education Area (QFEHEA)


An overarching framework that makes transparent the relationship between European national higher education frameworks of qualifications and the qualifications they contain. It is an articulation mechanism between national frameworks. See also the explanation above under EQF for LLL).

Quality assurance

The process or set of processes adopted nationally and institutionally to ensure the quality of educational programmes and qualifications awarded.

Recognition networks

ENIC: European Network of Information Centres in the European Region.

NARIC: National Academic Recognition Information Centres in the European Union.

Network of national centres providing information, advice and assessment of foreign qualifications. Created to help improve the academic recognition of international awards and facilitating the integration of national education systems.

Reference point


Non-prescriptive indicators that support the articulation of qualifications, learning outcomes or related concepts Source: Bologna Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks, 2005

Regulated professions

Professions to which access or practice in the host EU Member State is, by law or regulation or administrative provision, conditional upon the possession of certain fixed professional qualifications.

Resit examination (exam)

Students who have not been able to take or who have not passed an examination or assessment on the first date scheduled may be offered the opportunity to take a resit examination or assessment at a later date.  Where a resit examination is offered, the candidate is deemed to have passed or failed the examination after the results of the resit are known.

Second cycle degree

This is a higher education qualification awarded after the successful completion of second cycle studies that may involve some research work. It is often referred to as a Master’s degree. A student normally takes it after completion of a first degree.


A skill is the learned capacity to achieve pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills are often divided into general/generic and subject specific skills.

Student centred learning


An approach or system that supports the design of learning programmes which focus on learners’ achievements, accommodate different learners’ priorities and are consistent with reasonable students’ workload (i.e. workload that is feasible within the duration of the learning programme). It accommodates for learners’ greater involvement in the choice of content, mode, pace and place of learning.

Student workload

The time (expressed in hours) that it is expected that an average learner (at a particular cycle/level) will need to spend to achieve specified learning outcomes. This time includes all the learning activities in which the student is required to carry out (e.g. lectures, seminars, practical work, private study, professional visits, examinations).

Study programme

An approved set of modules or course units recognized for the award of a specific degree, which should be defined through the set of learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences, to be achieved in order to obtain the specified credits.

Subject benchmark statements


Subject benchmark statements set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject.

Subject specific competences

Competences related to a specific subject area.


Member of academic staff of the University who monitors the progress of a Doctoral candidate, provides advice and guidance, and may be involved in assessing the Thesis. See also Thesis.

Teacher centred learning


The transmission of information from a knowledge expert (teacher) to a relatively passive recipient (student/learner) or consumer.

Teaching & learning methods

A wide range of teaching techniques are used in universities.  The set of teaching techniques strongly depends on the instructional form of education (face to face education, education by correspondence or distance education).  The Tuning consultation revealed the following list (which is far from exhaustive)

•    Lectures

•    Seminar (small group teaching)

•    Tutorials 

•    Research seminar

•    Exercise classes or courses

•    Workshops (classroom based practical classes)

•    Problem-solving classes

•    Laboratory teaching

•    Demonstration classes

•    Placement (internship/traineeship)

•    Work based practice

•    Fieldwork

•    Distance learning (which may be paper based or ICT based)

•    e-learning (which maybe entirely on-line or 'blended' using other techniques and learning environments)

Such lists are indicative only, and are really a list of categories of teaching activity, since how each is undertaken may vary widely not only between academics but within the everyday practice of any one academic, depending on the focus of the teaching and the intended learning outcomes for the students. 

As with teaching, a wide range of learning activities are used in universities.  The following (inevitably partial) list of commonly used learning activities gives some idea of the richness that is possible teaching and learning.

•     Attending lectures, seminars and tutorials, laboratory sessions

•     Participating in problem solving classes

•     Note-taking

•     Conducting searches for relevant materials in libraries and on-line

•     Surveying literature

•     Reading and studying texts or other material

•     Summarizing

•     Conducting increasingly complex research/independent projects or group projects

•     Practising technical, mathematical or laboratory skills

•     Practising professional skills (e.g. in Nursing, Medicine, Teaching)

•     Researching and writing papers, reports, dissertations of increasing difficulty (in terms of size and complexity of the material)

•     Working with other students to co-produce a report/design/answer to a problem

•     Preparing and making oral presentations, either in groups or individually

•     Making constructive criticism of the work and others, and using the criticism of others productively

•     Chairing and participating usefully in meetings (of seminar groups, for example)

•     Leading or being collaborative members of teams

Thematic studies


A degree programme focusing on a particular subject or topic of interest. Thematic studies in higher education are of multi- or interdisciplinary character.



A formally presented written report, based on independent research/enquiry/ project work, which is required for the award of a degree (generally a first or a second degree or a doctorate). It may also be called a dissertation.



An official (e.g. certified) document which provides a complete summary of the student’s academic record at that institution(s) leading to a qualification.



Tuning Educational Structures in Europe is a university driven project which aims to offer an approach to implement the Bologna Process at higher education institutional and subject area level. The Tuning approach contains a methodology to (re-)design, develop, implement and evaluate study programmes for each of the Bologna cycles. The term “Tuning” emphasizes the notion that universities are not aiming to unify or harmonize their degree programs into a prescribed set of European curricula, but rather are looking for points of convergence and common understanding based on diversity and autonomy.