ECTS started in 1989 within the framework of an Erasmus pilot plan involving 145 higher education institutions. It was set up in the beginning as a credit transfer project. The objective was to recognise periods of study abroad, and thus to increase student mobility in Europe. The first pilot plan has been progressively extended. In 1997-1998, 772 new institutions applied for the introduction of ECTS, 290 one year later.
Progressively, the ECTS system evolved encouraging a wider use of credits. Member States that had signed the Bologna Declaration identified ECTS as a key element of the strategy adopted. The action programme set out in the Declaration identified specified objectives such as ECTS comparable credit systems also covering lifelong learning activities and making possible accumulation. In January 2000, the European Commission published a report on "ECTS extension feasibility project" as a result of a Steering Group work based on the accumulated experiences and on consultations in numerous European countries. Overall, a broadly favourable consensus emerged from this survey. The report concluded: "The current state of the ECTS is relatively healthy and buoyant. It is accepted and used by over 1000 higher education institutions. The tools it uses are tried and tested and have been shown to be effective. However, it does require further embedding within institutions. For the current purposes of credit transfer ECTS works well". In this context, no changes to its procedures and processes are necessary. The principles that underpin ECTS (as a credit transfer system) will also serve to underpin a broader European credit (accumulation) system. However, a number of adaptations and developments to the existing ECTS tools and procedures would be necessary for its application to lifelong learning