Is there a European Approach of Service-Learning in Higher Education?
1st Experts’ Seminar: is there a European approach of Service-Learning in Higher Education?
With the aim to clarify if there is a European approach of Service-Learning in Higher Education, the Observatory organized the first Experts’ Seminar in Madrid, 26TH February 2020. This Newsletter is based on the information thrown by twenty-six experts on Service-Learning from twelve European countries that contributed to this event. Participants were:
- Aitziber Mugarra Elorriaga, University of Deusto (SPAIN)
- Alina Simona Rusu, Babes-Bolyai University (ROMANIA)
- Alžbeta Brozmanová Gregorová, Matej Bel University (SLOVAKIA)
- Ana Cayuela Mateo, EOSLHE (SPAIN)
- Anđela Jakšić-Stojanović, University Donja Gorica (MONTENEGRO)
- Andrea Lyons-Lewis, Nottingham Trent University (UNITED KINGDOM)
- Ángeles Manjarrés Riesco, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (SPAIN)
- Beatriz Delfa Rodríguez, Univerisdad Pontificia de Comillas (SPAIN)
- Carlos Ballesteros García, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas (SPAIN)
- Cinzia Albanesi, University of Bologna (ITALY)
- Clara Guilló Girard, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (SPAIN)
- Elena Lopez de Arana Prado, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (SPAIN)
- Guillermo Mañanes Jiménez, Council hall Madrid (SPAIN)
- Henrietta Gronlund, University of Helsinki (FINLAND)
- Janine Bittner, Geographisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (GERMANY)
- Leonor Seguer Prado, Council hall Madrid (SPAIN)
- Lucas Meijs, Erasmus University (NETHERLANDS)
- Lucia Vadillo Graziatti, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas (SPAIN)
- Maria João Vargas-Moniz, ISPA – University Institute (PORTUGAL)
- Marta Alonso Trascasa, EOSLHE (SPAIN)
- Marta María Albert Márquez, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (SPAIN)
- Montserrat Alom, Directrice du Centre International de Recherche et d’Aide à la Décision (CIRAD), Fédération Internationale des Universités Catholiques (FIUC) (FRANCE)
- Nicolas Standaert, University of Leuven (BELGIUM)
- Pilar Aramburuzabala, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (SPAIN)
- Pilar Pino, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (SPAIN)
- Ruth Gil Prieto, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (SPAIN)
Previous the debate, participants wrote their opinion regarding how government are related to higher education, the educational traditions, and the role of civil society in their countries. Opinions were commonly shared some weeks before to debate if there is a European education approach, if there is a kind of specific European service tradition, or if Europe is so diverse that there is not that kind of European approach.
The debate was preceeded by two presentations on different approaches of Service-Learning. First was a presentation of the cases of United States of America and South America, and the second one was a presentation based on the 2019 Annual Report of the European Observatory of Service-Learning in Higher Education and other activities carried out with the support of EOSLHE.
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History of the European Observatory of Service-Learning in Higher Education
During the debate, it was stated how in Europe the factors as solidarity, cost of education, isolation of the students, and academic autonomy may have contributed to a unique development of European Service-Learning. There is a European concept of solidarity that implies a well-developed welfare state, universalistic. At the same time, it means an obligation of the state to meet the needs of the community, which can release academic institutions from their responsibility of addressing the community needs, beyond what directly concern the students. Nevertheless, thanks to taxes paid by the community, in the European public universities is intended to achieve equal access to higher education by low tuitions, fees, and scholarships or grants for European citizens. This contribute to the idea of a debt that the academic institutions and the students have with the community, and spread the conception of public solidarity. In combination of a majority of located students, specially undergrads, that usually ask for a direct and immerse interaction of the service practice, supports the idea of a European Service-Learning with horizontal approach, where the students reflect on the system as part of the whole system too. They are realizing that Service-Learning meets the needs where the welfare state has not yet been able to reach, and they try to achieve the gaps in the welfare state, reflecting on root causes of social problems, using the critical perspective, and reinventing democracy. European Service-Learning comes from and is a tool for positive feedback for this conception of public solidarity. One European exception is the case of United Kingdom, where high prices in higher education turn students into costumers, putting a special focus on how the student can pay the debt obtained to be able to study, influence the decision of the student to participate and valuate Service-Learning, and can hind the importance of critical or democratic competencies in its tertiary institutions.
In the course of the debate, it was taking into consideration the accessibility to tertiary education in Europe. It slightly varies from one country to other but the discrepancies were not considered determinants when it comes to the identify the inequality in access for students or related to possible differences in Service-Learning.
Accessibility to higher education usually fits in one of the next three options: through accessibility-exam, just obtaining a higher school diploma, or assessing the previous academic expedient.
Bearing in mind that social justice is an inherent concern in Service-Learning, in the American continent, it has been identified two main Service-Learning approaches mainly differentiated in reflection and service elements: the Traditional Service-Learning and the Critical Service-Learning. Traditional Service-Learning aims to meet needs, but with no intended structural inequality transformations. It is centred on the learning of the students through participation in community service projects. Critical Service-Learning draws attention to the root causes of social problems. Its goal is to deconstruct systems of power. Traditional Service-Learning consists of service to the individuals, and Critical Service-Learning means service to an ideal.
Service-Learning methodology started eighty years ago in the United States of America (USA). The USA approach evolved from a Traditional Service-Learning to a Critical Service-Learning. It is characterized by a vertical approach: where the students are not part of the community, but they reflect on the community. In the USA, Service-Learning students are considered the beneficiaries of the learning, but they are outsiders to the problem, probably boosted in several causes as a high cost of higher education, a private philanthropic social conception of solidarity, and a high prevalence of dislocated and isolated students. In Latin-American framework, similar to Europe, Service-Learning started four decades ago in a cultural framework where Christianity has an important role. In the case of Latin-America, the definition of Service-Learning includes a feeling of solidarity. Its approach is horizontal: the students reflect on the system as part of the whole system too. In Latin-America, students are part of the entire Service-Learning experience. They are immersed in the problem or need identified.
Although the Experts on this seminar recognized some academic autonomy, it was stated a similar governmental control by national agencies of accreditation and other informal ways. But certain agreement was stated around the assessment of competencies. It was commonly highly valued the implementation of the Bologna process, where Europe includes in its key competencies of lifelong learning the same principles that also are seeking by Service-Learning, e.g., to develop citizenship based on engagement, Human Rights, equality, and democratic decisions. But the experts are aware of that is not possible to ensure an exclusiveness of Service-Learning methodology to achieve these kind of competences.
The debate finished in the following ideas that could be shaping a European Service-Learning perspective.
- In Europe, we are reinventing the European social welfare system. This issue differs for the USA and Latin America contexts, but it is the background for a European Service-Learning perspective.
- There is a combination of located and dislocated students across Europe. Bachelors usually are more located. Master students are more dislocated as they are traveling much more. Classification of the students by its location can lead us to a very interesting European perspective.
- Bologna process is contributing dislocated students also with the common ETCS equivalence system.
- We cannot say that there is a European perspective regarding the conception volunteerism, and each country has its own way. However, this is something that we will have to discuss if we have dislocated students around Europe.
- There is a European agreement with the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, Europe is attending to a change of the way it embraces solidarity. There is a European trend to privatize and localize citizen’s participation. We are moving from indirect solidarity (form the government) to direct solidarity (private) where pro-bono actions are taking relevance in most of the nations in Europe, which is a very private kind of solidarity.
- Except for the UK, education is still cheap apart from non-European students.
- There is a common trust in the government and institutions, even though this can be different for East European countries.
- Democracy and diversity are very different in Europe. In the USA, diversity was about not hurting other people’s feelings, meeting, and talking to each other, which also seems very European, but in Europe the perception of democracy includes a consensus-building instead of voting.
- It is commonly sharing that Service-Learning should achieve the development of learning skills, not only as a way of developing skills.
There may not be a European approach of Service-Learning as such. Each European country has a specific framework and its own Service-Learning experiences. Nevertheless, this continent sometimes called the “Old World” or “Old continent” is characterized by its intellectual traditions, pedagogies, and policies that differ from other parts of the world.
Higher Education Framework in European Countries
Overview of the higher education framework in each country of the participants in the first Experts’ Seminar EOSLHE. The following words are the contribution, based on their own opinion, shared among the experts previous to the debate and regarding the relationship between government and higher education, the educational tradition, and the role of civil society, factors that could be shaping a European approach of Service-Learning in Higher Education.