Service-Learning in Croatia
Service learning was first introduced in Croatia in 2006 through a series of workshops to different Croatian universities, schools and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In the same year, service-learning was integrated into the curriculum at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences within the University of Zagreb as an optional course. Later in 2008-2009, it was introduced in the Faculty of Economy at the University of Rijeka, and a multidisciplinary elective service-learning course was offered at the University of Zagreb that was followed by two graduate courses in psychology and at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. In 2009, service-learning was added as a policy of the Croatian National Youth program 2009-2013, and the Croatian translation of the ‘service-learning’ term (“društveno korisno učenje”) became accepted as a common term at the national level.
In the academic year 2015-2016, sixteen courses were offered nationally with twenty-seven academic staff and about five hundred students. The disciplinary backgrounds offering these courses broadly included humanities and social sciences. Furthermore, the Europe Engage project survey from 2016 indicated that service-learning and student civic engagement are not institutionalized in the higher education in Croatia.
The ‘Ordinance on the award of ECTS credits for the student’s extracurricular activities’ (Pravilnik o dodjeli ECTS bodova za izvannastavne aktivnosti) was adopted at the University of Zagreb in 2013, at the University of Rijeka in 2015, and at the University of Dubrovnik in 2017. In it, extracurricular activities of students in student organizations and associations, student volunteering and engagement in humanitarian activities are recognized. This has opened new spaces for the formal recognition of the service-learning activities that are strongly connected to the curriculum but cannot be awarded ECTS credits due to the rigid and slow curricular change. Mission statements and strategic plans of the universities and their constituents reveal that they all recognize the responsibility of the academic community towards the community in which they act.
In 2017, the Office for Cooperation with NGOs of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, developed a call for proposals entitled ‘Support for the development of partnerships between the civil society organizations and higher education institutions for the implementation of service-learning programs’, under the Operational Program Effective Human Resources 2014 – 2020, funded by European Social Fund (ESF). The call intended to encourage the development of sustainable partnerships between higher education institutions and civil society organisations through implementation of service-learning programmes. As a result, forty from 189 have received funding. This is an excellent result regarding the number of service-learning partnerships. Triggered by great interest in this ESF call, the University of Zagreb opened the Office for Lifelong and Service Learning. The role of the Office is to provide training: for academics, for civil society organizations to work with the University, and to connect lifelong learning and service-learning projects.
Although all aforementioned factors represent the important milestones in the institutionalization of service-learning, the civic engagement of Croatian universities and strong collaboration with the community remains to be built.