In 2019, new Standards and Guidelines for ECTE Accreditation and new Criteria and Procedures were presented to the ECTE General Assembly. These came into effect for all new ECTE accreditation activities since December 2019.
ECTE accreditation and higher education in Europe
The ECTE operates in the field of accreditation within the overall context of European higher learning where the progressive enlargement of the European Union has generated a process of profound change and the realization of a common European Higher Education Area (the EHEA). In this process, a major role is being played by the “Bologna Process” which currently unites over 47 European Ministers of Education and numerous educational and governmental agencies around the project of creating a common framework of reference for European tertiary education.
The ECTE Council in recognising the value of the Bologna educational framework and desiring to better contextualise to the European situation, has integrated several of the Bologna tools into its own standards and procedures. At the same time, given that the ECTE is a trans-national, peer-accrediting organization for theological formation that cannot be considered on the par of national ministries of education or of national accrediting agencies, it must be clearly stated that the ECTE does not have the legal authority to accredit academic degrees within the single states of the EU. ECTE nomenclature necessarily transcends national degree and nomenclature structures providing only comparability criteria. It should also be clear that, in view of the fact that degree awarding is the prerogative of each school within the legal framework of their own country, the ECTE does not award degrees but only certifies levels.
ECTE Accreditation of Evangelical Theological Education
While being sensitive to the European Higher Education Area framework and national policies, the ECTE provides specific accreditation services within the framework and values of evangelical theology, emphasising a distinctive set of quality standards not present in the accreditation of secular tertiary education. The ECTE’S accreditation is therefore more than just academic standards, for fitness for purpose in theological education also involves transformation in the areas of spiritual formation and Christian ministry and service. Since quality assurance in theological education must go beyond knowledge acquisition to ensure competency in all of these areas, the standards that need to be met for ECTE accreditation endorse typical values of evangelical leadership training, such as sound doctrine and practice, discipleship, spiritual mentoring, personal growth and practical ministry effectiveness.
Levels of ECTE accreditation
The ECTE accreditation scheme makes a dual statement of comparability to two other existing frameworks. The first is the UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) that supplies a methodology to translate national educational programmes into an internationally comparable set of categories for the levels of education. The second framework is found in the worldwide nomenclature generally recognized within the networks of schools associated with the International Council for Theological Education (ICETE) that provides international evangelical “peer-review accreditation”, and facilitates mutual international recognition between institutions of degrees and programmes. This common theology-degree nomenclature also grants a high level of international recognizability by missions, denominations and potential employers of graduates. Having an accredited programme with the ECTE means that the school’s degrees will usually be recognized by evangelicals worldwide and that the school itself has succeeded in reaching significant quality standards in theological higher education.
The scenario of evangelical theological education in Europe is varied and, in order to provide relevant quality assurance to as many kinds of schools possible, the ECTE is currently involved in accreditation that uses the following nomenclature leading to a statement of comparability to the following levels.
- The ECTE Certificate certifies to basic short programmes of theological education. They should normally correspond to the equivalent of one full-time academic year and consist of 60 ECTS credits. There is no ISCED comparability for this kind of programme, whereas in most ICETE-related schools they are referred to as a Certificate in Theology. The academic level of these programmes should be equivalent to the first year of the Vocational Bachelor qualification.
- The ECTE Diploma certifies shorter “practically oriented/occupationally specific” programmes of theological education suited particularly, but not exclusively, to those intending to prepare for work in Christian ministries (e.g. Ministry among Children & Youth, Evangelism & Mission). They should normally last two years and consist of 120 ECTS credits. This kind of programme corresponds to the Minimum Qualification at Level 5B in the ISCED framework, whereas in most ICETE-related schools they are referred to as a Diploma in Theology (DipTh). The level of these programmes should be equivalent to the first two years of the Vocational Bachelor qualification.
- The ECTE Vocational Bachelor certifies “practically oriented/occupationally specific” programmes of theological education for the professional preparation of candidates for ordination or other forms of recognised Christian service. They should normally last three years and consist of 180 ECTS credits. This kind of programme corresponds to a First full Qualification at level 5B in the ISCED framework, whereas in most ICETE-related schools they are referred to as a Bachelor of Theology (BTh). These programmes are generally of less academic intensity and with a greater emphasis on the practical application of knowledge than is found in the traditional university context.
- The ECTE Academic Bachelor certifies “theoretically based/research preparatory” programmes of theological education. They should normally last three years and consist of 180 ECTS credits. This kind of programme corresponds to the First Qualification at level 5A in the ISCED framework, whereas in most ICETE-related schools it is referred to as a Bachelor of Arts in… (BA). These programmes should comparable to a first university degree in national higher education (First Cycle in the Bologna Framework).
- The ECTE Postgraduate Certificate certifies either “practically oriented/occupationally specific” or “theoretically based/research preparatory” programmes for those already in possession of an undergraduate degree. In the EHEA their duration is usually is 6 months to one year (30 – 60 ECTS). Programmes may be consecutive or non-consecutive (i.e. designed for graduates of another field of studies).
- The ECTE Vocational Master certifies “practically oriented/occupationally specific” programmes for the preparation for Christian Ministry of those already in possession of an undergraduate degree. In the EHEA their duration is usually is two years (120 ECTS). This kind of programme corresponds to the Second full Qualification at level 5B in the ISCED framework and is referred to in ICETE-related schools as Master of Theology (MTh). Programmes may be consecutive or non-consecutive (i.e. designed for graduates of another field of studies). In this second case many schools extend postgraduate professional training for ordination to three years or 180 ECTS in order to bring it in line with the internationally acknowledged Master of Divinity (MDiv). Vocational Master programmes are generally of less academic intensity and with a greater emphasis on the practical application of knowledge than is found in the traditional university context.
- The ECTE Academic Master certifies “theoretically based/research preparatory” 1-2 year (90-120 ECTS) graduate programmes in theological studies. This kind of programme corresponds to the Second Qualification at level 5A in the ISCED framework whereas in most ICETE-related schools they are referred to as a Master of Arts in… (MA). These programmes should be at the same level as a second university degree in national higher education (Second Cycle in the Bologna Framework).
- The EEAA currently does not accredit doctoral level programmes.
It should be noted that both Bachelor and Master levels contain an important distinction between vocational and academic-oriented programmes. This distinction reflects an emerging trend in Europe to distinguish tertiary level academic studies from professionally oriented higher education. While both types of studies are of an academic nature and require the acquisition of theoretically-founded structural knowledge and methodological-analytical skills, vocational programmes at each level may emphasise professional applications or more theory-oriented learning.
Further information can be found in the ECTE Manual.