UNIAKTIV is committed to promoting social responsibility and community involvement of students and teachers and to integrating these issues into university teaching. Central to this is the pedagogical approach of service learning (SL) – combining university education and student civic engagement. Activities include promoting SL at UDE and other universities, enabling faculty to hold SL courses, facilitating cooperation between faculty and CSOs as SL community partners, fostering forms of student civic engagement, developing workshop formats, and promoting topics at political levels (local to national).
Service learning is applicable to all fields of study. Stakeholders have been involved at relevant stages through written information and events at the university and at non-profit organisations. The methodology and strategy addresses teachers, students and non-profit organisations. An advisory board for strategic development and implementation includes professors, university administration, students and representatives of non-profit organisations.
All stakeholders involved in SL projects have access to information about the goals, procedures, expectations, progress and results of those projects. The advisory board has access to information about the umbrella project, UNIAKTIV. Results were presented to local project partner organisations with hand-outs, reports, documentations or recommendations.
Service learning is a new approach that challenges existing beliefs regarding societal responsibility, the value of education in the university system and the role of researchers and universities in society. It also tries to bridge existing gaps. There are potential risks of internal system change (for the university) and of working with students (for non-university partners).
The advisory board, regular meetings with participants, and feedback and evaluation contribute to a continuous exchange of ideas and identification of best practices. Mutual understanding has led to cooperative development of SL projects that fit participating organisations’ needs.
The practice has been successful – even beyond the initial university. More than 150 SL seminars have been held at UDE. Approximately 2.000 students, 90 faculty and 200 CSOs have used UNIAKTIV services. As the project has progressed, participation by professors and teachers has increased and UDE has established a vice-chancellorship of ‘diversity’. In addition, a network of universities (currently 30) participating in SL has been established and funders have implemented SL in their funding schemes. As one further result of UNIAKTIV, UDE has established a permanent post to support faculty service learning activities.
Service learning is an approach with sustainable effects, but it requires staying power, resources, publicity and publics, and most of all, individual/personal commitment (it is more than just a job). Service learning is a methodology for schools and higher education institutes; it is a concept for local networking that benefits students and institutions.