Service-learning is nourished by an intense dialogue between theoretical perspectives in which pedagogical, didactical, spiritual, institutional and cultural references are combined and integrated. In this space we explore these theoretical inspirations and the different approaches from which it is possible to understand the meanings and purposes of the AYSS projects implemented within the framework of UNISERVITATE.


What is Service-learning

"We don't want students to go into communities with the idea that they are there to help others, that communities have problems that experts (teachers and university students) come to fix, much less that they think they are better than community members because they are more educated or have more scientific skills (...) Social change is closely aligned with a social justice agenda that aims to work for a society in which individuals and groups have access to equal treatment and a fair share of opportunities and benefits.
Osman and Petersen, 2013: 8-9

Service-learning (SL) has spread throughout the world especially in the last 50 years, generating a substantive contribution to the revision of teaching methods in formal education systems. It can be defined as a teaching methodology -and also a philosophy- that seeks to promote student learning through the design of solidarity activities that seek to respond to the genuine needs of communities. SL develops its educational potential by connecting social demands with academic learning, promoting the development of transversal skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication skills and social commitment.

The projects and pedagogical proposals focused on SL present these three programmatic characteristics simultaneously:

  • It involves the development of solidarity service actions aimed at addressing real and felt needs of a community.
  • They are actively engaged by the students in each of their phases, from planning to evaluation.
  • They are intentionally articulated with the teaching content, both in terms of curricular guidelines and the development of professional and citizenship skills.

In recent decades, the questioning of traditional teaching models and their inadequacy to the demands of the knowledge society has promoted the development of so-called "active pedagogies", aimed not only at promoting the construction of scientific knowledge, but also at developing "soft" and socio-emotional skills (ver).

Educational institutions are called upon to promote, beyond disciplinary and/or professional knowledge, the acquisition of skills that make active citizen participation and sustained commitment to the local, national and global community possible. Numerous publications show a growing interest in better articulating the missions around the concept of "committed university" and "university social responsibility".

Faced with the enormous challenges of our time, several international higher education meetings at the global and regional levels have issued declarations emphasizing the need to strengthen the social participation of universities associated with the objectives of sustainable development by 2030 (United Nations Target 4.7). Their representatives have even promoted local development processes that require the formation of networks and the joint work of educational institutions and social organizations with the public sector, in order to address structural issues that cannot be changed by the participation of teachers and students alone.


The challenge of teaching minds, touching hearts and transforming lives.
"Catholic Universities must be characterized by continuous reflection in the light of the Catholic faith on the growing treasure of human knowledge, to which they seek to offer a contribution through their own research; fidelity to the Christian message as presented by the Church; institutional effort at the service of the People of God and the human family in their journey towards that transcendent goal that gives meaning to life". Apostolic Constitution Ex corde ecclesiae (1990)

The teachings of the Catholic Church emphasize the importance of integral education as the central core of its institutions. In his teaching, Pope Francis insists on the need to promote from the university the dialogue of faith and reason, and the fusion of academic excellence with the concrete testimony of a socially committed community. He exhorts us to go out to the periphery and involve "head, hands and heart" in the transformation of the world, integrating knowledge, to know how to do and to know how to be.

SL is a key strategy for CHEIs to fulfill its mission of educating for fraternal humanism and building a civilization of love, helping communities to articulate their spiritual identity with teaching and research missions, and offering innovative ways to achieve an integral education. Through UNISERVITATE and the institutionalization of service-learning, it is hoped to strengthen the links between spiritual reflection, pastoral activities and academic learning.


In the last few years, there has been growing reflection on the responsibility of higher education institutions to place their knowledge and resources at the service of the community as a whole, providing solutions to society's most urgent problems and promoting sustainable development. In addition to the traditional concepts of outreach and social service, others have been added such as volunteering, university social responsibility (USR), or the development of social capital. Each of these concepts is associated with theoretical assumptions and also with diverse institutional cultures and practices.

The pedagogical proposal of service-learning at the University opens a space of encounter and convergence of intentions and actions oriented to social intervention by involving teachers and students in the attention of real problems of local or global communities from the teaching. It offers a genuine and profound way of articulating academic excellence with the social commitment of higher education to the construction of a just society.


Voices of
Learning Service

"It's a matter of coherence between the command of the Church and the mission of the University (...) It isn't about being good people, it's about giving an opportunity for better quality of teaching and education. This is strategic. Associate it with the improvement processes"

Chantal Jouannet & Manuel Caire, Universidad Católica de Chile

"It is necessary to start from the recognition that the University doesn't own knowledge, and needs to place the leadership in students and the community with their knowledge and experiences"

Daniela Gargantini, Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Argentina

"Service Learning is not a creation of Catholic Universities but we recognize in this methodology many opportunities to educate students. We see how much students learn about themselves, about the course and about society by being confronted with aspects of social justice. SL is a gift from the outside that we Catholic Universities can use to help us deepen our commitment to social engagement, linked to the Church’s social mission".

Nicolas Standaert, Louvain University, Belgium

An ever-expanding
global network

UNISERVITATE is a global and networked programme that is established through a process of permanent development and the integration of new actors and institutions from a series of regional hubs strategically distributed around the world.