Linking and promoting academic learning with social engagement in a targeted manner – this is the objective of the worldwide "Uniservitate" network, which aims to link Catholic universities in their activities. The KU is one of only six universities in the world to have taken on the role of a hub for service learning. In doing so, it maintains contacts with institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The Catholic universities in Deusto (Spain) and Leuven (Belgium) are responsible for the area of Western Europe. Other regional platforms are being established in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, the United States and Canada. At the end of last year, the KU was already able to attract three new institutions to "Uniservitate": Bethlehem University in Palestine, the Catholic University in Lviv in Ukraine, and the Catholic University in Lublin in Poland. The network itself is an initiative of the "Latin American Center for Service Learning in Solidarity" (CLAYSS) and the organization Porticus, which promotes the project.
The pedagogical concept of service learning combines study with civic engagement in the form of service or service activities for non-profit or public institutions. In this context, students and teachers apply their knowledge to help overcome specific social challenges, thus making a contribution to society at the same time. In the process, students gain practical skills that enable them to continue working for a better society in line with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Service learning is also always accompanied by reflection, so that new knowledge is created from experience. This way of learning strengthens professional, methodological, social and personal skills and promotes a sense of civic responsibility.
"The cooperation of the Catholic educational institutions serves to foster student engagement during their studies. At the same time, we would like to increase the exchange of new ideas for teaching with each other in order to jointly develop existing educational approaches further at our universities", explains Dr. Tanja Kohn, project manager of Uniservitate at the KU. The coordination office for the network is being set up at the KU since November 2020. The cooperation of the universities within the regional networks includes the exchange in working groups as well as the joint development of publications.
At the KU, the network is directly linked to the "Service Learning in Higher Education" (SLiHE) project, which involved six partner institutions from the EU and Africa. In this context, the KU was already able to stipulate in its 2019 Mission Statement for Studies and Teaching that new teaching formats should be integrated more strongly into degree programs in the future. "Uniservitate is now helping to firmly anchor offerings such as service learning in the degree programs at the KU", says Tanja Kohn. KU researchers also benefit from the network. They can participate in specific continuing education offers, for example, to gain inspiration and ideas on how to creatively shape teaching in cooperation with partner organizations.
More information on the network is available on the project website at www.uniservitate.org/