Thursday, 14 May 2015

Bilateral vs. ISEP

Initial Steps to Studying Abroad Continued

If you're new, please read this post first: Initial Steps to Studying Abroad and/or watch this video: How to Study Abroad: Introduction and Options

As you may have guessed by the title, this post will not be about WB5004, if I learn more about this, I might make a post about it later but as I am not doing this myself, your best bet is to email the study abroad office for more details on that particular option. This post will concentrate on explaining the differences between Bilateral and ISEP as options.

Are you ready to learn something new?

The Academics of Studying Abroad in General

The University of Chester runs on what is known as a "Full Year delivery model". This means you must study abroad for the entire academic year or not at all, because basically studying for just one "semester" abroad would not work with the rest of your degree.

So, at your overseas University, you will need to enroll on to 120 CATS (or UK Credits) worth of modules of Level 5 study (same level as second year). By doing so, it will become possible for the University of Chester to accredit your year abroad.

The modules you actually take will depend on whether you are completing your year abroad as your actual second year (WB5007) or as an additional third year which results in an overall four year course (WB5008). In both cases, the year is marked on a Pass/Fail basis a lot like first year. Ultimately, you need to remember that the University of Chester has no say in whether you pass or fail so although of course you should have as much fun as possible whilst there, remember that you are actually supposed to be studying!

You mean... I have to actually read books?

So should I do it as my second year or as an additional third year?

Second year replacement
First things first, this is obviously only available to first years. You also must match the modules you study overseas (as close as possible) with those you otherwise would have studied at Chester. You therefore cannot do it through ISEP. This is because, through ISEP your placement is not as easily guaranteed and the University of Chester wont risk putting your degree in jeopardy. Therefore, if you want to do it as part of your second year, your only option is the Bilateral route.

The other possibly negative aspects of doing your second year abroad are:

  • Your choice of Universities to study at is naturally limited by what you need to study to complete your chosen degree and to continue from in your third year.
  • If you were to fail your year abroad (by not achieving a pass for all 120 credits) you would have to retake your second year at the University of Chester instead of moving on to third year.
  • By doing your second year abroad, even if you pass, your entire degree will be weighted in third year. This means that whatever you get in your third year alone will be your final degree classification. See it as doing a second first year!
  • You will miss out on the opportunity to partake in Work Based Learning or Experiential Learning in the Wider World (WB5004 spoken about in my previous post).

However, on the positive side:

  • Providing you pass the year abroad, your degree will remain a 3 year commitment.
  • This means you're still only paying Student Finances for 3 years.
  • Unless of course you wanted to do a placement year as part of a 4 year course, which, with this option you could still do!
  • In fact, to study abroad in second year, your Student Finance Fees are only £1,350 compared to £9,000 as normal. 

Studying abroad is cheaper than studying in the UK?!

Additional third year
This is available for anyone not already doing their third year and means that all study undertaken overseas is additional to your normal degree programme. There is no compulsory element to what you can study abroad as part of your 120 credits to pass this year. You do however need to get your choices approved by your PAT tutor and your head of department. This is because you will be returning straight back into third year after having potentially studied nothing to do with your actual degree! (My advice there? Choose most of your modules roughly relating to your overall degree to stay on track with things you might need to remember for third year!)

So the possibly negative aspects of doing an additional third year abroad are:

  • This experience will require you to extend your degree by one year and therefore graduate one year later.
  • Despite the Student Finance Fees being less than £9,000, you will still have to budget for an extra year in education.
  • Alternatively, if you had initially intended to partake in a placement year, thus already in a 4 year programme, you will have to forgo this and change your course code to WB5008.
However, on the positive side:
  • Student Finance Fees are only £1,600 for an entire extra year of studying. This therefore does not add a huge amount surplus to your overall Student Debt.
  • This year does not count towards your degree classification nor requires you to pass in order to progress into your final year. The year is entirely supplemental, and therefore has far less risk to the overall outcome of your degree programme. If anything, it might help to de-stress you from second year, ready to boss it in third year! (Well, fourth year).
  • Since the year does not have to match your chosen degree perfectly, the opportunity to study in different fields presents itself. 
  • The range of places you can study also increases as you can partake in either Bilateral or ISEP!
  • You will still partake in a normal second year, so you can also try out Work Based Learning or Experiential Learning in the Wider World. 


So should I go through Bilateral or ISEP?

Bilateral Exchange
So to recap, "A bilateral exchange is an exchange undertaken by students under a partnership agreement that has been reached directly between the University of Chester and each one of its Partner Institutions" - this simply means that for every student leaving the University of Chester on bilateral exchange, a student from that Partner Institution is sent to Chester.

There are currently 7 partnerships available (April, 2015) for Chester students, this is likely to change year on year however so you should first email the study abroad office to ask them what partnerships are currently available before making any decisions. 

The positives of going with the Bilateral option is that you have a very high change of getting placed. The agreements in place mean that you apply directly to your chosen host institution and the process of acceptance is much faster than the ISEP option because of this.

Other points to note include:

  • Accommodation fees are paid directly to the host institution. This means that you have more involvement in choosing your accommodation as well as having to obviously pay in the host countries currency, and at their rates.
  • There is a so called ‘No frills’ approach to organising an exchange through Bilateral as there are no third partied to deal with. You deal with the host university directly.
  • Since the University of Chester and the Partnership Institution are constantly in communication, you are put in touch with the host university at a very early stage in the application process, resulting in only having to deal with one point of contact until arrival at the host institution. This can make organising the whole experience a lot simpler.
  • The Bilateral exchange is very much student-driven. As you are put into direct contact with the host university and as you are paying them the accommodation fees etc, it is your responsibility to organise everything, not the Study Abroad Office's. This is both a pro and a con. It requires more effort from you as a student but also means you can be far more involved in the set up of your own exchange. Therefore, to partake in the Bilateral Exchange, you must accept a high degree of personal responsibility, independence, integrity and realise that personal organisation is a must.

Taking all of these aspects into account, it is therefore obvious that researching your chosen host institution is absolutely vital to your exchange success. If you fail to do your research properly, you may find yourself in a foreign country with no money and no plan! So.. as Chris here at the Study Abroad Office would say: DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Like that one time where...
we booked a place one hour away from where we wanted to really be.

An hours train ride to University every day?
Think of the extra costs!

ISEP Exchange
Alternatively, there is the option to partake on an ISEP Exchange. "ISEP is a network of over 300 colleges and universities in 50 countries cooperating to provide affordable access to international education for a diverse student population." - ISEP Website - so as you can guess, you're dealing with a hell of a lot more organisations than with the Bilateral Exchange. This of course comes with its own set of pros and cons. For one, you can study at a far greater range of universities in a far bigger number of countries than with the Bilateral option.

This also means however that, although you get to pick your favourite places to go, you may end up at any one of the many university they have to offer. This is because ISEP makes the decision on where each student gets placed depending on the students specific study goals (which you can lay out in your application) as well as their desired site to study. So, if you are studying English but choose a university specialised in Computer Science just because it is in California, you are unlikely to be placed here.

But before you get put off, each university you can apply for has an estimated "placement expectancy" ranging from "excellent chance" to "very limited" on the website. These are all visible before you even admit to anyone that you want to study abroad, so if there is only one place on the list of over 50 universities that you want to go to, and it says very limited, apply at your own risk.

To put it into retrospect, I got my first choice of university and my friend Simon got his 3rd choice. You can put as many choices of Universities as you want to and you can put them all into order - so it really isn't that big a deal; its pretty much the same as applying to University in the first place!

Similarly to applying to University, the ISEP Exchange application process is very similar to a UCAS application. There are several process phases and the application is therefore more structured than the Bilateral option in general.

Other points to note include:

  • The ISEP Coordinator at Chester is there to assist you throughout your exchange application if you need it. On top of this, there will be an ISEP Coordinator at the host institution too. They will therefore be able to help you if necessary during your actual year abroad.
  • Therefore, you effectively get the benefit of an extra support network that you would not have access to through a Bilateral exchange.
  • Despite all the additional support and more structured application process, similarly to the Bilateral exchange, there is still a significant responsibility on your part to ensure you research your chosen sites. This is mostly because, as ISEP will place you at any of the sites you list, if you later find out that something at your placed site is not to your liking, it will be far too late to do anything about it.
  • So therefore, again, as Chris would say: DO YOUR RESEARCH!
Yay - we're through!

So to sum it all up

Research is absolutely key. Remember that this is your opportunity to not only study abroad and broaden your field of expertise, but to also experience another part of the world for an entire year. Basically, the more research you do, the more likely you're going to be in a place you actually want to be in and have enough money left over to go and do/see everything you actually want to. Imagine going through the entire application, paying all your fees, paying for your flight, just to find out that you're going to a place that bores you!

On a similarly important note, remember to stay open minded throughout the entire experience. Generally, you will be expected to embrace the local culture, not conflict with it. The world is a big, diverse place – treat it that way. Don’t expect that everything will be the same as here in Chester, only with people speaking with a different accent, the plants and animals looking a bit odd, and the weather being a bit warmer. Be prepared to be shocked - at least that way, you wont actually be shocked when it comes to being shocked!

The same month that I turned 18, I left to travel the world on my own.

The same month that Rachel turned 18, she still had a 10 pm curfew.

A point that might affect some of you, and may make you work a little harder is that there is a minimum eligibility criteria imposed by the Study Abroad Office. This means that you need to achieve a minimum of 55% on average for your first year of study in order to be applicable to apply for any of the above experiences. This is mainly because the University of Chester would like some assurance that you as a student are strong enough academically to cope with a different education system without a drop in grades. As well as this, by being abroad, you automatically become an ambassador for the University of Chester and thus they obviously want you to be leaving a good impression! Mitigating circumstances, as with everything, will of course be considered.

I hope that helps and I will have more information for you all soon,

Lucy xxo

Next post in the series: Considering Where to Study


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