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Masters in Europe - an Overview

Every year, thousands of international postgraduates make the decision to study a Masters in Europe - and it’s not hard to see why.

Studying abroad in Europe will allow you to benefit from the centuries of academic prestige and expertise accumulated at the world’s oldest universities. As you do, you’ll get to live in and explore world-famous cities that attract huge numbers of international tourists.

International study in Europe can also offer unique opportunities for personal and professional development. You won’t just come away with an excellent, internationally recognised Masters degree; you’ll also have the chance to learn other languages, get work experience abroad and prove to future employers that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.

Here at FindAMasters we've put together a wide range of guides to Masters study in Europe, researched and written with prospective postgraduate students like you in mind.

Each includes information on the things you need to know and the questions you might have about studying a Masters in Europe: visas and immigration, university systems, course structure and assessment, finding a part-time job, fees and funding, language requirements, local food and drink to sample. . . we’ve covered all the important stuff.

On this page you can learn about some of the common features of Masters study in Europe, like the formation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), visas in the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) and... lots of other exciting acronyms beginning with 'E'. Or, if you'd like to just get started learning about European Masters degrees, simply select a country from the menu on the left. You can always come back here later if you suffer from acronym withdrawal.

The Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)

If you’re reading about Masters study in Europe, it may not be long before you come across references to the ‘Bologna Process’ and something called the ‘European Higher Education Area’.

These may not sound particularly exciting, but they’re actually one of the main reasons studying in Europe is so convenient and attractive. Together they help maintain a common format for higher education and enhance student mobility throughout much of Europe.

What is the Bologna Process?

The Bologna Process is ongoing, but it began in 1999 with an agreement signed, as you may not be entirely surprised to learn, at the University of Bologna in Italy (the oldest European university in continuous operation).

Education Ministers representing 29 countries took part in this initial 'Bologna Declaration' and formed the European Higher Education Area together. New conferences are held in European countries every 2-3 years and additional countries have also been admitted as signatories to the Bologna agreements and members of the European Higher Education Area.

What is the EHEA?

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is made up of the countries that have signed the Bologna Declaration and agreed to adopt a common format for their university qualifications (including Masters degrees).

As of 2015 a total of 47 countries (including the Vatican City) are included in the EHEA and participate in the Bologna Process alongside the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union), UNESCO, The Council of Europe and a range of organisations representing university institutions, staff and students across Europe.

Countries within the EHEA:

The following countries have become signatories to the Bologna Declaration and form the European Higher Education Area together:

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

What do the Bologna Process and the EHEA mean for Masters students?

The Bologna Process and the creation of the EHEA bring three key benefits to Masters students in Europe:

  • Your Masters degree will operate within a common three-cycle framework, usually as a postgraduate qualification, lasting one to two years. Once you’ve completed it you will be eligible to study a PhD.
  • The value and recognition of your Masters programme will be guaranteed by international quality assurance guidelines.
  • You will benefit from enhanced student mobility within the EHEA, including the easy recognition of existing European qualifications, the use of a common ECTS credits system and opportunities for collaborative degree programmes and funded international exchanges.

These are all made possible by a range of other systems that operate within and alongside the Bologna Process and the EHEA, to enhance the experience and potential of European Masters students. For more information about these, read on!

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)

If you’re studying a Masters in Europe, you may find that your course is organised according to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

The ECTS provides a common framework for measuring academic attainment in European higher education systems. The principle is that, wherever you decide to study a Masters in Europe, the academic work you do should be internationally recognisable through its ECTS credit value.

What do ECTS credits mean for Masters students?

Use of the ECTS credit system offers a number of benefits for Masters students in Europe:

  • Mobility and recognition: the ECTS value of your Masters degree will be internationally accepted, helping you apply for PhD or employment opportunities across Europe and beyond.
  • Flexibility and opportunity: the common ECTS system makes it easy to transfer learning between institutions or even countries and to gain credit for the work you do, wherever you do it in Europe. Thanks to the ECTS system, studying for a Masters in Europe can mean exactly that.
  • Student centred learning: because ECTS credits are calculated according to learning hours they can accurately reflect the increasing amount of independent and self-directed study that goes into a Masters degree.
  • Comparability: the use of the ECTS credit system across different European countries makes Masters degrees easier to compare internationally.

How many ECTS credits is a Masters degree worth?

The ECTS system works by assigning value to individual credits according to the number of learning hours required to earn them.

The standard is for each year of full-time academic study to be worth 60 ECTS credits. This corresponds to between 1,500 and 1,800 hours of workload per year, calculated at between 25 and 30 hours per credit.

Most European Masters programmes are worth between 90-120 ECTS credits and last between one and a half and two years*.

You will earn ECTS credits gradually as you complete individual modules of study and other course components (such as research training or academic development). These will be assigned a credit weighting depending on their duration and the amount of work expected of you.

* Masters programmes in the UK are something of an exception. Most UK Masters degrees only last one year and are worth 180 UK credits (two UK credits are equivalent to one ECTS credit).

ECTS credits and postgraduate workload

The workload reflected by the ECTS value of your Masters programme won’t just represent formal contact time in the form of lectures, seminars or workshops.

This may be accounted for in the calculation of learning hours per credit, but the ECTS system as a whole is student-centred: it represents all of the time you spend working towards your Masters qualification, whether in the form of self-directed research and study or the completion of assessments and dissertation work.

The different learning outcomes and expectations for postgraduate degrees also mean that many Masters programmes involve substantially less timetabled course components than an undergraduate degree. The ECTS credit value of your course will reflect this independent learning.

You can read more about the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study expectations in our guide.

More information about the ECTS credit system for Masters students in Europe

If you’d like to know more about the ECTS system, you can download the current edition of the ECTS Users Guide from the European Commission. This is the information supplied to universities using the system.

ENIC-NARIC centres and Recognition of Qualifications in Europe

In order to study abroad as a Masters student, you need to be sure of two things.

You need to know that your existing qualifications will be recognised by the foreign university you apply to and you need to know that the qualification you receive will be recognised if you return home with it or go elsewhere to pursue the next stage in your academic or professional career.

Europe’s ENIC-NARIC centres can help you on both counts.

What are ENIC and NARIC centres?

Across Europe there are two networks tasked with organising the recognition and accreditation of foreign qualifications and degree programmes.

The European Network of Information Centres in the European Region (ENIC) is administered by the Council of Europe and UNESCO. The National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARIC) are a European Commission initiative, operating as part of the Bologna Process.

In practice, both ENIC and NARIC centres cooperate to facilitate the recognition of foreign qualifications and support student and staff mobility between European higher education systems.

As a Masters student in Europe, you can generally treat ENIC and NARIC as the same network.

What can ENIC-NARIC centres do for Masters students?

As a postgraduate looking to study abroad, you are likely to encounter one of two general scenarios with respect to your existing qualifications:

  • In most cases your undergraduate degree will be automatically recognised by the foreign university you apply to. This is particularly likely for degrees awarded in Europe, where the Bologna Process and the ECTS credit system make the equivalence of degree programmes easy to determine.
  • Where a qualification is less familiar, it may need to be subjected to an assessment or accreditation process. In such cases your university will investigate the structure and content of your undergraduate degree in order to confirm that it provides a satisfactory pre-requisite for admission to the postgraduate programme you have chosen.
  • Where a qualification is already recognised they will be able to confirm this for you.
  • Where a qualification requires further assessment, they may be able to help by providing information on the necessary process and by contacting the ENIC-NARIC centre (or its equivalent) in the country that awarded your degree.

In both cases the primary function of the ENIC-NARIC network is to provide accurate and reliable information to yourself and your prospective institution.

What can’t ENIC-NARIC centres do for Masters students?

Whilst ENIC-NARIC centres can provide an important information resource, their role is primarily advisory. The final acceptance of your foreign qualifications will usually rest with the university you apply to.

This is important, because it helps preserve the academic autonomy of individual universities.

However, if you feel that a decision to reject your qualifications has been made incorrectly or unfairly, an ENIC-NARIC centre may be able to provide advice on your right to appeal.

Finding your ENIC-NARIC centre

Each European country maintains its own ENIC-NARIC branch. Usually this is organised by its ministry of education.

You can find details of individual ENIC-NARIC centres via the main web portal of the ENIC-NARIC network.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in the EU and EEA

The EU and the EEA are political and economic unions in Europe. They maintain shared legislation on issues including immigration and education policy.

EU and EEA nationals (as well as citizens of Switzerland) are usually subject to the same immigration and education rights as domestic students when studying in other EU and EEA member countries.

Who counts as an EU or EEA student?

Visa requirements for EU and EEA students

If you are an EU national you may normally enter another EU country without a visa and reside there for up to three months (90 days). In effect, this right is often also granted to EEA nationals and Swiss citizens.

As a Masters student you will almost certainly wish to live and study in Europe for longer than this. You still won't require a visa to do so, but will need to formally register as a foreign student.

Doing so will provide you with a document confirming your status. This will function as a Registration Certificate, but may be given different names in different countries. It will cover the duration of your course, but will usually cease to be valid if you are no longer registered as a student.

In order to apply for a Registration Certificate you will need to present the following documents at a police station or other local authority in addition to your passport or identity card:

  • Proof of your enrolment at a recognised higher education institution. Your university should be able to provide this through its international office. The document you submit should usually confirm the duration of your course.
  • Proof or declaration that you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself whilst you study. In general this should take the form of existing resources, such as student funding or personal savings. Income gained by working alongside your studies may not be accepted as sufficient evidence of financial resources.
  • Proof that you have comprehensive health insurance. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) may satisfy this requirement in whole or in part, depending on arrangements in your host country.

Working in the EU or EEA as a Masters student

Your right to work whilst studying a Masters in Europe may be affected by EU or EEA citizenship.

EU and EEA nationals

EU and EEA nationals usually have the right to seek work freely in other EU or EEA countries.

Partial exceptions may apply to you as student, however, as your right to reside in an EU or EEA country for more than three months will be based on your enrolment on a degree programme. This may restrict the number of hours you are permitted to work whilst studying.

As a rule, you can expect to be permitted to work on a part-time basis during semesters, with the right to take on more extensive employment during vacation periods.

Non-EU or EEA nationals

There is no overarching agreement covering the right of non EU-EEA nationals to work in the EU and EEA.

In many cases you will still be permitted to work, but this will be subject to restrictions on hours and may require the sponsorship of your university. Check our guides to studying a Masters in individual European countries for more specific information.

Schengen visas for Masters students

If you are studying abroad in Europe, you may qualify for (or already effectively possess) a ‘Schengen visa’. This will allow you to move freely across European countries in the Schengen Area.

What is the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area is a free travel zone within Europe. It comprises 22 of the 28 EU member states (all except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom) as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. These countries are referred to by the EU as ‘Schengen States’.

What does the Schengen Area mean for Masters students?

If you are an EU or EEA national, you are already entitled to live and study in any of the Schengen States. You are also entitled to enter other Schengen States for up to 90 days without needing to apply for formal registration of residence.

Students from outside the EU or EEA may benefit from free movement within the Schengen Area for specified periods, either as a right accorded to citizens of certain countries or by acquiring a ‘Schengen Visa’.

There are two situations in which you may wish to do this as an international Masters student in Europe:

  • You may need to cross the territory of another Schengen State whilst travelling to your country of study; or,
  • You may wish to travel outside your country of study during your Masters degree (perhaps to visit archives and facilities elsewhere in Europe, or for leisure purposes during a vacation).

Applying for a Schengen Visa

In most cases you should apply for a Schengen Visa at the embassy of the country most directly concerned with your intended travel. This will either be the country you intend to visit, the country in which you expect to spend most of your journey or the first country you will enter. For example:

  • If you are travelling to your country of study, but will need to change flights in another Schengen State, you should apply to the embassy of that state for an airport transit visa.
  • If you are travelling to your country of study via the territory of one other Schengen State, you should apply to the embassy of that state for a transit visa. If you are crossing the territory of more than one country, apply to the embassy of the country you will spend the most time travelling through, or of the first country you will enter on your journey (whichever is most appropriate).
  • If you are travelling to visit other countries within the Schengen Area you should apply for a short stay visa from the embassy of the country you will spend most of your time in (usually the country you are travelling to visit). If you are travelling without a primary destination, apply to the embassy of the first country you will enter.

In order to apply for a Schengen Visa you will usually need to submit the following documents along with your passport or identity card and a completed visa application form:

  • Evidence that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your travels. Countries may stipulate different minimum amounts for given periods.
  • Evidence of the purpose of your visit. This can include proof of tourist accommodation or other bookings. If you are travelling for research purposes your university may be able to provide documents to support your application.
  • Evidence that you are a registered student.
  • Evidence that you have valid health insurance covering you throughout your trip.

Countries whose citizens do not require a Schengen Visa

Nationals of certain countries may move freely within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days without requiring a Schengen Visa.

EU and EEA citizens are already entitled to move freely within the EU and EEA for short stays of up to 90 days.

Citizens of the following non EU and EEA countries have the right to free movement within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days in every 180 day period:

  • Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, the Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Specific stipulations and variations may apply to nationals of the above countries in certain cases.

You can find more information by consulting the website of the European Commission, or by contacting appropriate embassies.

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