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Community Service Learning (CSL) for students

Last updated on 29 November 2022
At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, you not only gain a deeper understanding of theory, but you also apply your academic and personal skills in real-life situations. With Community Service Learning (CSL), you work with fellow students and community partners on current issues in society.

Do you want an inspiring education where you can apply your knowledge and contribute to society, while also acquiring new skills? Then follow one of our study programmes with a CSL component. CSL is part of many Bachelor's and Master's programmes, so it’s probably part of yours, too!

The CSL activities are very diverse and they align with the course or elective you are taking. You work with a community partner to analyse, to understand, and to directly or indirectly address issues in society. This means that your insights and results are put to real use. In addition, you acquire skills that will be valuable in your future career.

You learn to cooperate with community partners and with people who are closely involved with the issue or problem. You also acquire social, cultural and communication skills, practice creative and critical thinking, and learn to reflect on your own behaviour and that of others.

You could, for instance, gain insights into the various causes of loneliness in a particular district and what works and doesn’t work to help alleviate it. Or you could find out how to make the Amsterdam tram more accessible without increasing the stopping time. Or perhaps you could focus on how to get people to recycle and upcycle to help prepare society for a circular economy. These are just a few examples of the many possible problems for which you can develop solutions.

CSL activities in brief

  • What will you be doing?

    You will work with real issues in real-life situations. The exact details will vary. In most cases, some of the activities take place outside the walls of the university, so you will come into contact with various people who are involved with the issue. This could include policy makers at the municipality, housing corporations and health organisations, or with those they serve, such as citizens, residents, patients or clients. Sometimes, you might delve deeper into a societal issue to gain more insight. At other times, you might work with others to develop possible solutions.

  • What activities does CSL include?

    The activities are diverse. For example, you might conduct interviews or group discussions with the people closely involved with a particular issue, collect data using questionnaires or interviews, and conduct analyses. This could result in the joint development of an app, intervention, recommendation, action plan or evaluation—basically, whatever is needed.

  • Does my study programme offer CSL?

    Many study programmes offer courses or electives with a CSL component. Contact your course coordinator or the CSL team to see what is possible within your programme.

    There are also CSL activities that are open to all students at VU Amsterdam, namely:

    The minor Global Health for Bachelor's students
    For Bachelor's students, there are minors in which CSL is a common thread. One example is the minor Global Health, in which you work alongside local, Dutch or international partners for 5 months on issues related to migration, food security or mental healthcare. This way, you will stay involved with the issue for a longer period of time and you will be able to strengthen the development of various competencies.

    The Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning module
    For Master’s students, there are two iCSL courses: Addressing Challenges Through Transdisciplinary Research and Defining Challenges In a Multi-Stakeholder Context. During these courses, you will work on a complex issue in areas such as climate change, digital inclusion or the COVID-19 pandemic. You will work alongside community partners and students from different academic disciplines. In addition to working on a societal issue, you will also learn to integrate knowledge from different disciplines.

  • Examples of CSL courses

    Marketing Sustainable Innovations
    This course is part of the minor Sustainability and Innovation. Together with fellow students, you will develop a marketing plan for a community partner regarding a sustainable innovation. You will work together to determine the approach and, after four weeks, you will present your findings and the marketing plan.

    Professional Sociology Skills (PVS1) and (PVS2)
    In these courses, which are offered in Dutch, second-year sociology students recently developed four possible future scenarios for post-COVID Amsterdam. The municipality can use these to test existing and new policies to determine how well the city is prepared for each of the scenarios.

     Governing Global Challenges
    Second-year political science students work with five partner organisations at different levels of government—a ministry, a municipality, an NGO and two advocacy organisations—to address global challenges. The issues addressed could include the unintended effects of international development aid on governance, loneliness during the pandemic, and the controversial issue of having dual nationality.

    Analysis of Governmental Policy
    First-year Master's students in Management, Policy Analysis and Entrepreneurship learn to give policy advice on a complex societal issue based on interdisciplinary research. After becoming acquainted with the theoretical policy concepts and models, you will write a policy recommendation report for a community partner on a challenging topic such as loneliness or alcoholism[CO1] .

    Management of Sustainable Innovation
    First-year Master's students in Digital Business and Innovation work with external partners to devise new ways to promote sustainable innovations for businesses. This could include platforms that help facilitate more sustainable energy solutions, local food distribution or urban mobility.

What students think about CSL

‘Through CSL, I became aware of the complexity of societal issues. Through this experience, I feel well prepared for my future job.’

‘Thanks to CSL, I am more self-assured and have the confidence to deal with people who are different from me.’

‘I find it motivating that something really gets done based on your insights and results.’

‘In my previous study programme, we worked with 'made up' assignments. It is inspiring and meaningful to work on real issues in real-life situations.’

‘I now understand much better what I can do with the knowledge we acquire during our education. Now I know how I can apply it.’

A conversation about Community Service Learning

Community Service Learning provides you with valuable insights, experiences and contacts. A student, a community partner, a teacher and the CSL programme director tell you all about it.

Questions? Suggestions? Requests?

We’re always happy when you’re interested and contact us.