Ghent University’s Approach to Community Service Learning

On Wednesday, September 9th, ILAS staged CKI’s seminar hosting Guillaume Tuytschaever of Ghent University, Belgium. Tuytschaever, Ghent University’s Community Service Learning Project Officer, attended to present an overview of the community engagement and service learning work that takes place at Ghent University.

Ghent University is a partner in the Europe Engage Erasmus+ Project awarded to NUI Galway in 2014 to develop a service and community based learning network among 12 European countries, and advances Community Service Learning as one of the strategic goals of its Strategic Plan.

In 1996, Dr Barbara Jacoby defined Community Service Learning (CSL) as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in service activities (a practical experience in the shape of a social or civic engagement) that address community needs (real social or civic needs or problems; such as poverty and cultural exclusion), together with structured opportunities of reflection intentionally designed to promote student (academic and civic) learning and development.”

During his presentation and the discussion that followed, Tuytschaever outlined that, at Ghent University, CSL is used as a vehicle to encourage social engagement of students in academic curricula as part of their overall pursuit of three essential aims:

  1. To contribute to the social accountability of Ghent University in general;
  2. To encourage the social relevance of education;
  3. To improve the social responsibility of Ghent University’s students.

And, with their integration of CSL into academic curricula, Ghent University contributes to a more strategic and society-orientated option: To educate students to become global citizens who take joint responsibility for their education and play a significant role in an open, critical and independent way in an ever-changing society.

In addition, Ghent University’s application and promotion of CSL makes it possible for their students to improve not just their own quality of life, but that of certain communities and groups that have a genuine need for support. Ghent University also advances CSL as one of the strategic goals of its overall Strategic Plan, using CSL as a vehicle – a teaching methodology – to encourage social engagement of Ghent University students in academic curricula.

In looking to and building towards the University’s future, Tuytschaever and his team want to encourage new CSL initiatives by:

  1. Developing an inventory and visualizing good practices of CSL at Ghent University;
  2. Constructing a practical CSL toolkit to apply in a variety of situations;
  3. Creating and then actioning a pilot CSL project at Ghent University.

In doing so, Tuytschaever and co. intend to build upon the already established, good CSL practice of the University, its campus-wide optional course ‘Coaching and Diversity’.