For the record, the following is the opening statement in the proposal to Senate to establish Service-Learning as a required component in the General University Requirement in the new 4-year Undergraduate Programs, in December 2010, to officially come into effect for the first cohort to enter PolyU in 2012.
A university empowers its students to realize their potential. On the other hand, society invests in its citizens through the university. For both reasons, a university’s students should be engaged with society. Leading universities offering service learning as academic subjects include Purdue University, Brown University, University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, etc. Some universities such as the University of San Francisco require all students to participate in service learning associated with academic subjects. Campus Compact is a US coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service learning in higher education.
Our own university is committed to providing a holistic education to our students. Our current strategic plan states that our core business is to “develop all-round graduates, with … social and national responsibility, and … global outlook … with attributes of responsible citizens …” In fact, we have done very well in the core areas such as critical thinking, problem solving, professional knowledge, and career development. We have also realized that we can do better in the more intangible areas such as civic responsibility, social justice and ethics. In the past several years our university has successfully encouraged many students to engage with society through community service, mostly in the form of non-credit bearing, co-curricular activities, both local and offshore. We are now ready to take the next logical step, to strengthen the learning aspects of social engagement.
We propose to give academic credits to qualified service learning, to recognize and formalize the learning efforts and outcomes in this form of experiential learning. To ensure academic quality, these subjects must have proper teaching, practice, and assessment components. To ensure that all our students benefit from this form of learning, it will be made compulsory for all students. As students have different prior experiences and interests, even though the fundamental learning objectives are similar, students should be provided with ample choices in terms of themes, scales, contexts, target clients, and nature of involvement.
In time, we believe we can make active and effective social engagement a distinctive hallmark of Polytechnic University’s students – something that we can all be proud of.