Credit and Course Equivalencies

equivalencyHow academic requirements in North America, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia are compared

In comparing MPP/MPA programs in different countries, one of the crucial factors to consider is the amount of instruction and learning required for a degree. This page reviews the different systems used for expressing quantity of instruction and learning.


The Atlas uses the following equivalencies:

1 one-semester-course (3 credit hours) in US and Canada =
9/8 one-quarter-course (4 credit hours) in US (See Note 1) =
1 half-unit course at London School of Economics =
1 fifteen-credit course at University of Edinburgh =
1 course at University of Glasgow =
1 core module at University of Oxford =
1 module at University of Cambridge =
1 fifteen-credit module at King’s College London =
1 fifteen-credit course at University College London =
1 fifteen-credit course at University of Exeter =
1 course at Hertie School of Public Policy in Berlin =
1 course at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) in Dubai =
1 course at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) in Moscow =
1 four-MC course at National University of Singapore =
1 course at University of Hong Kong’s Department of Politics and Public Administration (DPPA) =
1 three-credit course at Beijing Normal University’s School of Social Development and Public Policy (SSDPP) =
1 course at Australia and New Zealand School of Government =
1 six-unit course at Australian National University =
1 six-credit-point course at University of Sydney =
1 six-UOC course at University of New South Wales =
1 twelve-and-one-half-point course at University of Melbourne =
1 ten-credit course at Griffith University =
0.5 module at Queen Mary University of London =
0.75 twenty-credit courses at University of Warwick =
1.28 two-credit courses at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo =
1.28 two-credit course at the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) at the University of Tokyo =
1.5 courses at SciencesPo in Paris =
2.0 components of the “cornerstones” (also 2.0 seminars) at in the Università Bocconi’s SDA Bocconi School of Management

1 one-semester course in US and Canada = 15 CATS credits in UK = 7.5 ECTS credits in Europe

Our rationale for setting these equivalences is set out below. It should also be noted that there are variations among institutions in the number of weeks of classes associated with semesters. The length of semesters ranges from 13 to 15 weeks (from 12 weeks of classes plus an exam period in most Canadian and Australian programs and 12-13 weeks plus exam time in the Harvard Kennedy School to 14 weeks of instruction and an exam period in many American programs). Similarly, in the UK the number of weeks in a term varies among universities.

Hours of instruction, hours of learning and Curriculum Content Units

Most of the courses in MPP and MPA programs appear to have a nominal 3 hours per week of in-class instruction time. (See Note 2 below.)

The hours of learning associated with a class, or course, or program are greater than the hours of instruction because they include the time spent in pre-reading, further reading and assignments associated with the in-class instruction. We can define:

hours of learning = hours of in-class Instruction + hours of outside-class study 

There is remarkably little written in official university documents about how many hours of outside-class study students are expected to devote to their courses.

One program that makes the hours of learning expectation explicit is University of Victoria. Under the FAQ for Graduate Programs it states: “How much work is involved? Students should plan to spend 10 to 15 hours per week on each course you take; this is a sizeable time commitment and you’ll need good time management skills to assure success” (at, accessed 13 May 2015).

Another program that makes the hours of learning expectation explicit is the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, ANZSOG (a partnership between governments, 16 member universities and business schools within the two countries). ANZSOG describes the work required in a subject as follows (at, accessed 7 September 2014): “Each [course] consists of around 40 hours of instruction time. This is supported by at least a further 80 hours of study time involving pre-reading, further reading and assignments.” The hours of learning expected in an ANZOG course is therefore 120 hours.

The actual hours of learning by any student in any course-week will depend on the rigour of the syllabus and the expectations set by the instructor for outside-class study. Anecdotal comments from students interviewed by the Atlas editors suggest that many students in many courses do not actually engage in 7 hours of outside-class study in many weeks of courses. For that reason, we add the adjective “potential” to the following identities:

1 course-week = 10 potential hours of learning

1 course = 12 course-weeks = 120 potential hours of learning

In order to describe the core curriculum of MPP and MPA programs, we disaggregate curricular content into discrete building blocks that can subsequently be aggregated into courses or modules. Each building block is associated with a discrete learning outcome with assessment questions, and each can be taught during a standard period of learning. We call the standardized size of the building block a Curricular Content Unit (CCU), where a CCU is a body of subject matter learnable by an average MPP or MPA student with 10 hours of learning, typically 3 hours of in-class instruction and 7 hours of outside-class study.

1 Curricular Content Unit (CCU) = 10 hours of learning (typically 3 hours of in-class instruction and 7 hours of outside-class study)

From these identities we see that students could learn 12 CCUs of curricular content in a 12-week course provided that they actually engaged in 120 hours of learning (an average of 10 hours per week for 12 weeks) during the course.

Courses in Australia

Australian universities use a variety of units to designate credit values and there do not appear to be any government standards for what constitutes the appropriate amount of study for Master’s programs. However, most programs have courses that appear to be equivalent to a one-semester course in North America.

CATS credits in the UK

Determining one-semester course equivalencies for UK institutions has been more challenging than for Australia or Asia, partly because the term structure at most UK universities is different.

In principle, most UK institutions use a system that can be enumerated in CATS credits, as described in two 2008 publications of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education: The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Higher education credit framework for England: guidance on academic credit arrangements in higher education in England (available through the links, accessed 30 September 2014, or at the pdf versions at the bottom of this page). The framework and descriptors are reproduced in Note 3 below.

Most of the UK MPP and MPA degrees are one-year taught Master’s degrees with 180 CATS credits. If we used the conversion rate recommended by Foreign Credits Inc. whose website asserts that “4 CATS credits are equivalent to 2 ECTS credits or 1 U.S. credit, so CATS credits must be divided by 4 to convert to the U.S. system” (at, accessed 6 April 2014), we would equate the 180 CATS-credits degrees to a 15 one-semester course degree in North America, and making 12 CATS credits equivalent to a one-semester North American course. This would be consistent with the strict reading of the Higher education credit framework for England: guidance on academic credit arrangements in higher education in England which states (page 2) that “one credit represents 10 notional hours of learning.”

However, we have taken a different approach, which might be called “applying the LSE MPA standard.” The MPA offered by the Institute of Public Affairs at the London School of Economics is the UK degree that most resembles North American MPP and MPA programs because it is taught predominantly in four 4-month terms over two academic years. It is also the UK degree with the most online detail about course content and hours of teaching (see, accessed 30 September 2014). The course descriptions indicate that the typical MPA full-unit (two 12-week terms plus 4 hours of revision in a third term) course has about 60-70 hours of lecture or seminar. This is close to the 2 x 3 x 12 = 72 hours in a typical two-semester North American course. The LSE MPA requires 8 full units of courses, which we can therefore equate to 16 one-semester courses. This suggests that a full semester of coursework in the UK is equivalent to 4 one-semester courses which would imply that a typical UK one-year taught Master’s degree is equivalent to 8 one-semester courses with a thesis worth 4 one-semester courses, for a total requirement of 12 one-semester courses (although see Note 4). This implies that:

1 one-semester course in US and Canada = 15 CATS credits in UK 

ECTS Credits in Europe

Using the 2:1 CATS to ECTS conversion, this implies that:

1 one-semester course in US and Canada = 7.5 ECTS credits in Europe

This is broadly similar to the number that could be calculated from SciencesPo’s statement that: “Standard courses at Sciences Po are 24 contact hours (12 sessions of 2 hours, over 12 weeks) with about the same number of hours of work outside the classroom. One 24 hour-class is worth 4 ECTS credits.” (At, accessed 2 July 2016.) If a student did “almost 3 hours” of study outside class study rather than the “about the same number” then 7.5 ECTS credits (just under two standard courses) would involve 120 hours of study, the number we equate to a one-semester course in US and Canada.

Courses in Japan

For the MPP/IP program at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP), the normal course has 2 credits and appears to constitute 2 hours instruction per week for 15-16 weeks. From the course descriptions, the content for a GraSPP 2-credit course appears to be more than 2/3 that of a North American 3-credit course. We have normalized the total course requirement for the GraSPP MPP degree to 18, which is the median of its collaborators in the Global Public Policy Network: Columbia SIPA MPA (18); SciencesPo MPP (18); Hertie MPP (20); LSE IPA MPA (16). The ratio (46/2)/18 produces the following equivalency: 1.28 two-credit course at the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) at the University of Tokyo = 1 one-semester course. We apply the same equivalency for the MPP and MAPP programs offered by the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) where virtually all courses are two credits and the GRIPS credit appears to correspond to 2 hours of teaching per week for a 16-week term.


Note 0. The US Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) maintains a Glossary at The IPEDS Glossary defines a semester as “A calendar system that consists of two sessions called semesters during the academic year with about 15 weeks for each semester of instruction. There may be an additional summer session.” It defines a quarter as “A calendar system in which the academic year consists of 3 sessions called quarters of about 12 weeks each. The range may be from 10 to 15 weeks as defined by the institution. There may be an additional quarter in the summer.” It defines a credit hour as “A unit of measure representing the equivalent of an hour (50 minutes) of instruction per week over the entire term. It is applied toward the total number of credit hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award.”

Note 1. A minority of American MPP/MPA programs use the quarter system. They include 6 reviewed to date: Chicago Harris, Northwestern, Oregon, Stanford GPPP, UCLA Luskin, and Washington Evans. After reviewing the programs and the course of study we suggest that the equivalency should be based on equating normal full course loads. This equates 9 four-credit-hour courses in the quarter system with 8 three-credit-hour courses in the semester system. Thus, 1 semester course = 9/8 quarter course. For a blog description of the use of semesters, quarters and trimesters in American universities, see (accessed 15 February 2015).

Note 2: The actual number of instruction hours in standard semestered course is somewhat less than 15 x 3 = 45, first, because class lengths are somewhat less than 3 hours (or 1.5 hours in the case of two-session per week formats), and second, because holidays and examination periods mean that not all sessions are devoted to lectures. For example, at NYU where semesters are 15 weeks, there is one 2.75-hour session per week and, for the micro-economics course, one of the 15 sessions is used for a mid-term and another is used for a final exam (see, accessed 12 June 2014). At the Harvard Kennedy School, where semesters are “normally 13 to 14 weeks long…The standard HKS course meets twice a week (Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday), 1.5 hours each time, for a total of three hours per week for the full semester.” (At, accessed 10 June 2014). However, the School also notes that, given the 10 minutes required to vacate and transfer between class rooms, the Standard 1.5 Hour Period is 80 minutes of teaching time. Because of holidays, there are between 24 and 26 meetings for the standard course in the fall and spring terms in other words 12-13 weeks of instruction, not counting exam period (at accessed 11 June 2014). This implies that the actual number of hours of teaching in a one-semester HKS course is, on average, 25 x 80/60 = 33.3. On the subject of outside-class hours, the Harvard Kennedy Schools’ Planning a Course site states:

“Those courses with 5 to 10 sets a semester might require 6 to 8 hours per problem set for the average student. The courses that assign problem sets every week would naturally require less time for each. Moreover, the time an individual student requires will vary depending on previous exposure to the material.”

“The amount of reading assigned depends in large part on the subject matter. In general, 100 to a maximum of 150 pages a week is normal, but keep in mind that 100 pages of (say) political philosophy may be more dense and difficult than 100 pages of more narrative material. If each course assigned 150 pages of reading a week students would be faced with up to 750 pages per week.”

“Some faculty recommend about 35-40 pages of reading preparation for each class meeting, with 40 pages being the maximum.” [Note: This means a maximum 80 pages each week for a course with two 1.5 hour class meetings per week.]

“One faculty member’s rule of thumb. Don’t assign more than 12 hours of work [per week] outside of class. Competing for students’ attention by assigning more and more work is usually counterproductive.”

Note 3: Table 1 is reproduced from Higher education credit framework for England: guidance on academic credit arrangements in higher education in England and provides the credit values for all programs in England. In the same document, the Quality Assurance Agency advises that “the learning outcomes of most master’s degree courses are achieved on the basis of study equivalent to at least one full-time calendar year and are taken by graduates with a bachelor’s degree with honours” and that the minimum credits for a taught Master’s degree such as an MPP or MPA is 180, with 150 of these credits to be taught at the Master’s level.


The taught Master’s degree with 180 CATS credits implies 180 x 8 = 1,440 hours of student work. This is 50 percent more work hours than a normal year of undergraduate study and is equivalent to 45 weeks of 32 hours per week study.

To express this in North American terms, we can use the calculation (see below) that a normal American course of one semester duration is equivalent to 15 CATS credits. This means that the minimum MPP or MPA degree requirement in England is equivalent to 180/15 = 12 semester-course-equivalents. In the UK, the normal time to completion for the MPP and MPA degree appears to be one full year of intensive study. For example, the Oxford MPP is described as “a one-year (50 week) intensive course, beginning in September and ending with a six-week external placement during July and August” (at, accessed 7 April 2014).

The following is a quotation from pages 20-22 of The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, published by the Quality Assurance Council and downloaded below.

The descriptor provided for this level of the framework is for any master’s degree which should meet the descriptor in full. This qualification descriptor can also be used as a reference point for other level 7 qualifications, including postgraduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas.

Master’s degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study or area of professional practice
  • a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research or advanced scholarship
  • originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student:
    • to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline
    • to evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • continue to advance their knowledge and understanding and to develop new skills to a high level.

And holders will have: the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:

  • the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility
  • decision-making in complex and unpredictable situations
  • the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development.

Much of the study undertaken for master’s degrees will have been at, or informed by, the forefront of an academic or professional discipline. Students will have shown originality in the application of knowledge, and they will understand how the boundaries of knowledge are advanced through research. They will be able to deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, and they will show originality in tackling and solving problems. They will have the qualities needed for employment in circumstances requiring sound judgement, personal responsibility and initiative in complex and unpredictable professional environments.

Master’s degrees are awarded after completion of taught courses, programmes of research or a mixture of both. Longer, research-based programmes may lead to the degree of MPhil. The learning outcomes of most master’s degree courses are achieved on the basis of study equivalent to at least one full-time calendar year and are taken by graduates with a bachelor’s degree with honours (or equivalent achievement).”

Note 4. Most UK taught Master’s programs express credits in terms of CATS credits and have 120 CATS credits for coursework and 60 CATS credits for the dissertation. We assign this 12 one-semester course equivalents. Perhaps surprisingly, the LSE MSc programs in public policy and administration appear to have a lower credit value than other UK taught Master’s degrees since LSE states that they have course-plus-dissertation requirements precisely half that of the LSE MPA, which we believe to constitute 16 one-semester course equivalents. This implies that the LSE MSc degrees have 8 one-semester course equivalents.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated on 2 July 2016.

Image: From False Equivalency,, at accessed 11 December 2015.