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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 8 | Aug. 7, 2003

Taking Education and Learning into Our Community

Canadian universities seek stable funding

By Michelle Cook

UBC has joined forces with nine other Canadian universities to seek funding support for community service learning (CSL) initiatives.

Representatives from the universities of Alberta, Toronto, Western Ontario, McMaster, Guelph, Queens, St. Francis Xavier, Simon Fraser, and Memorial came to UBC in late June to discuss ways to build momentum for CSL across Canada. The result was the formation of a national coalition of universities and an action plan to help raise the profile of CSL in Canada. A key component of the plan is the creation of a long-term funding infrastructure to support service learning programs and pilot projects.

CSL is a pedagogical model that combines community volunteer activities with academic course work to give students the opportunity to make connections between theory and practice, engage in critical reflection and see how their studies can be applied. While the model has been popular in the U.S. for some time, Canadian universities have only recently begun to adopt it.

“In the U.S., a huge amount of money and support have gone into CSL initiatives,” says Margo Fryer, director of UBC’s Learning Exchange and the meeting’s host. “We want to have enough money available nationally so that the CSL movement can grow on Canadian campuses and be sustainable in the long term.”

One of the coalition’s goals is to have a mechanism for stable funding in place by 2004 when a $1 million private grant that supports St. Francis Xavier University’s CSL program runs out. The Nova Scotia university is considered the pioneer of the service learning movement in Canada.

“We need to find a way to sustain the St. Francis Xavier program and the others that have followed,” says Fryer. “The idea is to have a pool of funding from different sources available to all Canadian universities in a year’s time. We see government support playing a crucial role in our ability to integrate this important approach to experiential learning into the fabric of Canadian universities.”

Fryer says the importance of CSL goes beyond enriching students’ academic experiences.

“With CSL, we’re strengthening civil society by bringing students’ energy and enthusiasm to community organizations and by encouraging students to think critically about social issues and to become active and engaged members of their communities.”

UBC has been involved in CSL since 1999 when the Learning Exchange Trek Program began placing student volunteers in community organizations. Two years ago, the program began incorporating CSL into course work. This year, 300 students from a wide range of disciplines have worked in 30 organizations that include inner-city schools, community centres, community gardens, homeless shelters and hospices.

Funding for the UBC Learning Exchange currently comes from the university and private donors, but the ability to respond to the increasing interest in CSL among students and community organizations depends on additional funding, Fryer adds.

In addition to developing stable funding sources, the coalition’s action plan includes a commitment to share resources and curriculum ideas, encourage student involvement and empowerment in all aspects of CSL programming, and continue meeting annually.

Although the members have formalized their partnership, there are still many details to be worked out. But Fryer is optimistic that the group will reach its goals.

“The coalition schools are committed to growing CSL into a widespread movement in Canada because of its potential to strengthen our society. We believe it is possible to create a national infrastructure to support CSL much like research is currently supported in Canada through both public and private funding.”

For more information on the Learning Exchange’s CSL initiatives visit www.learningexchange.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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