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Durham University

Department of Physics

Information for Durham students about study abroad

This page is addressed to students of this Department who would like to find more about studying abroad as part of their degree. Information about working abroad as part of a Durham degree can be found in our working abroad page.

Study abroad opportunities

+Can I join one of the Physics degrees with Year Abroad right from year 1?

No. It is only when everything will be lined up for your going abroad the following academic year that you can transfer to either the BSc degree with Year Abroad or the MPhys degree with Year Abroad. The transfer will require the permission of the Department.

+Can I study abroad as part of a Natural Sciences degree?

Possibly, at least if you would go abroad on a study placement with one of the overseas partners of the University. For advice on this matter, please consult the Deputy Head of the Faculty (Natural Sciences).

+Can I study abroad as part of my degree?

Assuming that you read Physics, Physics and Astronomy or Theoretical Physics, your options are quite broad:

  • If you are on an MPhys degree, and receive the necessary permission, you can replace your third year of study in Durham (level 3) by a year of study abroad covering the same learning outcomes. That is, after your second year of study you'll go abroad for a whole academic year, and come back to Durham the following academic year to do your level 4 modules and complete your degree. The courses done abroad need to cover all the essential material taught in the level 3 modules you would otherwise take in Durham, including the prerequisites for the level 4 modules you'll take in your final year here. You will be assessed on the material studied abroad by the host university, according to their own rules and procedures. We will transfer the corresponding marks onto the Durham scale, using an algorithm approved by our Board of Examiners, and the resulting average mark will be your overall Level 3 mark. Progression into the fourth year of study and your degree class will be decided exactly as if you had studied in Durham. Poor performances abroad may thus put your degree class at risk, if not your degree itself. For this reason, the Department will allow you to do a replacement year only if your overall level 2 mark is at least 65% and will insist on a very good command of the language of tuition of the host university if this would not be English.

  • At the end of your second or third year of study (or even fourth year of study for a MPhys degree), and assuming that you have a placement, you can transfer either to the degree of BSc Physics with Year Abroad, which is a four-year Bachelor degree, or the degree of MPhys Physics with Year Abroad, which is a five-year integrated master degree. The programmes of these two degrees differ from those of the usual 3-year BSc Physics degree and 4-year MPhys Physics degree only by the addition of a year abroad. For instance, having completed your level 2 modules in your second year study you would go abroad for a whole academic year, and come back to Durham the following academic year to do your level 3 modules. The courses attended in the host university must include a suitable amount of Physics and the programme of study must be approved by the Department; however, normally there is no need to match learning outcomes of Durham modules. You will be assessed on the material studied abroad by the host university, as for a replacement year, but your marks will not contribute to the final mark for your degree. If things come to the worst and you fail your year abroad, you'll simply transfer automatically back to the usual BSc degree or to one of the 4-year MPhys degrees.

  • You ask the University to interrupt your studies by a gap year, which you spend abroad. In principle, this option gives you entire freedom of where to go and what to study. However, you will not be a student of Durham University during your gap year, which means that it is unlikely that you will be able to use student loans to fund it, and you will not be eligible for exchange placements, which means that you may be liable to paying tuition fees to your host university.

Please note that whether you intend to go abroad on a replacement year, an additional year or a gap year, you will need to be granted the permission for doing so. You can transfer to a degree with Year Abroad only if you have a placement abroad lined up for the following year.

There is no possibility of studying abroad as part of a Physics degree for less than a full academic year.

+Do I firmly commit myself by applying?

No, you don't. However, please bear in mind that at some point you'll have to commit yourself financially (e.g., booking accommodation), and that organising placements is very time consuming for the staff involved. If you have second thoughts about going on an overseas exchange, please pull out before the middle of January so as to give someone else the chance to go.

+Do many Physics students study abroad as part of their Durham degree?

While the Department has received exchange students for a number of years, no Durham Physics undergraduates had attended courses abroad as part of their degree until 2009, when an MPhys student replaced his third year of study in Durham by a year of study at the University of Heidelberg (Germany). The experience proved completely positive, as can be judged by his testimonial, and a number of Physics students have since followed suit (including five who will be abroad for the whole of the 2015/16 academic year).

+Should I pay tuition fees to the host university?

Not if you go on an Erasmus placement or an overseas placement organised through the University; probably yes if you go abroad outside a formal exchange scheme.

+What is the difference between Erasmus exchanges and overseas exchanges?

Besides the ranges of destinations, the most important differences from a student's point of view are probably the following ones:

  • Students on an Erasmus study or training placement receive a "mobility grant" from the UK Erasmus National Agency. The amount varies from year to year and from destination to destination. On the basis of the amounts allocated in the last few years, the grant may be expected to be roughly €250 or €300 per month, depending on the destination. There is no such mobility grant for other placements (although other sources of funding might exist).
  • Overseas exchanges are open to all and are competitive across the whole university. If the number of applications exceeds the number of placements available, which is usually the case, the successful applicants are selected by the International Office. Erasmus study placements for Physics are open only to Physics students; if the placements available are oversubscribed, the successful applicants are selected by the Department.
  • The application process and the deadlines for application differ between the two schemes.

+What tuition fees would I pay to Durham University for the year abroad?

Durham students abroad for a whole academic year pay much lower tuition fees to Durham for that year than would normally apply to them.

+What would happen if I fail a course abroad?

You will be encouraged to let the Department know of any circumstances which you believe have significantly affected your performance abroad, and the Department will aim to be fair in its decisions if unforeseen circumstances have caused your marks to be excessively low. It is ultimately an academic judgement of the Board of Examiners in Physics to decide whether and how a course fail should impact on your degree. In the case of an additional year of study, failing several courses may have the consequence that the Year Abroad component of the degree would be deemed to be failed, too, in which case you would transfer to one of our degrees without a year abroad with no impact on the calculation of your degree class.

+When should I start organising this?

Clearly, the earlier the better, particularly if you want to take language classes in preparation for a placement in Europe. However, for Physics programmes, the second year of study cannot be done abroad, which means that the earliest you can apply is when you are in Year 2.

The closing date for applications to an overseas exchange varies from year to year, but expect it to be sometime in the second half of the Michaelmas Term. The results are usually announced during the Christmas vacations or towards the beginning of the Epiphany Tern.

The deadline for applying to an Erasmus exchange next academic year will be announced by email and through DUO in due time. The details of the programme of study will need to be worked out during the Epiphany Term, and you should expect to have to attend to various administrative matters from time to time until the end of the Easter Term, if not later (besides arranging travel and accommodation).

In any case, if you are seriously considering studying abroad, please discuss the possibilities with the Exchanges Coordinator at an early strage, and certainly sometime in October or November of the year of study preceding that you would spend abroad.

+Where can I find more information about studying abroad?

Check your inbox: The Exchange Coordinator of the Department emails announcements about studying abroad from time to time, including one in October. Detailed information for Physics students is permanently available on DUO, in the "Physics Undergraduates" pages.

General information about studying abroad can be found on the web pages of the University's International Office and on the "International Office Guidance for Students" pages on DUO.(The DUO pages are accessible only to Durham students and staff. You will need to self-enrol on this "course", through the Support/Services tag, if it does not appear in your list of courses and organisations.) There is also much on the web (e.g., the Erasmus page of the British Council).

Also, watch for emails circulated from time to time by the International Office or by the Department. The International Office organise an annual Study Abroad Fair,usually at the end of October or the beginning of November, which is great for finding more from Durham students who have been on exchange.

+Where can I go to study abroad, and can I study abroad in English?

Currently the possibilities are as follows:

  • A study placement in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway or Turkey with one of our Erasmus partners. Our partners in Sweden, Norway and Turkey offer suitable Physics undergraduate courses taught and examined in English. Master-level courses, suitable for students who would go abroad in the 4th or 5th year of their degree, are also offered in Engoish by a number of our other partners. These other destinations will also be of interest to those wishing to perfect their French, German, Spanish or Italian. We may ask you to take a language test in the language of tuition of the host university if this language is not English.

  • A study placement further afield with one of the University's overseas partners. Undergraduate courses are normally taught and examined in English in most of these institutions.
  • Study in an university abroad outside a formal exchange scheme within a gap year . This will need to be organised directly by you, and you will have to make your own arrangements with the university concerned.

+Which courses should I take while abroad?

The programme of courses offered by the host universities can be found online. You'll be rather constrained in your choice of courses if you go abroad as a replacement year, as you'll have to meet the learning outcomes of the level 3 Durham modules you'll be replacing. The Exchanges Coordinator will advise you about the requirements and will let you know which courses you will have to include (or exclude) from your programme of study. Whether you would go on a replacement year or an additional year, your programme of study will need to be approved by the Department.