Service learning and social justice – a new innovation at St. Mary’s University

St. Mary’s University is launching a new degree programme. It is coming to the end of its validation process and will be formally “on the books” from February. Students will be able to join the programme from September 2022, but they can apply now. For the next month, we are currently advertising it “subject to validation” as the regulations require. The programme is probably unique in the UK. It will be called: “MA in Social Justice and Public Service”.

There are four main parts to the programme which can be taken full time or part time.

There will be a taught module on the theory and practice of social justice. All students on the programme will take that module together.

There will then be the opportunity to choose additional taught modules from a very wide range which will include subjects such as human trafficking, migration, international institutions, social justice and education, Catholic social teaching, charity management and bio-ethics. Flexibility with the taught modules runs in two directions. Students can choose taught modules according to their interests and aptitudes. Some might prefer to take a particularly Catholic perspective; others students might want to know more about the details of charity management; still others might prefer a social justice pathway more linked to politics. In addition, there is a lot of flexibility in how the modules are taught to accommodate full-time and part-time students, students from overseas, students with childcare commitments and so on. Of course, every module is not taught in a variety of ways, so students may not be able to choose precisely the modules they wish to study with a very exact study pattern. Nevertheless, there will be a lot of flexibility. Some modules will be taught over a couple of weekends, other by zoom, others in the evening, and others in blocks, and so on.

This masters course is suitable for students with different profiles and we hope that they will learn from each other. It is a natural alternative to a vocational, employment-oriented masters course.

The third part of the programme requires students to undertake 150 hours of service through a UK registered charity. We are discussing how we might co-operate with Catholic charities in relation to the provision of placements, but students will be able to find their own service opportunity with any UK registered charity. The programme is also open to people who are working for a charity and they can count their work towards the service requirement. This is a major initiative in what is known as “service learning” within the UK higher education sector. In developing this, we have learned from our membership of the international service learning Uniservitate consortium.

The final part of the degree consists of the compilation of a portfolio which is part diary, part reflection and part research or practical project. This practical assessment replaces the research-intensive dissertation which is at the heart of many masters programmes.

This masters course is suitable for students with different profiles and we hope that they will learn from each other. It is a natural alternative to a vocational, employment-oriented masters course. A wide range of employability skills will be developed. In addition, those who are working for charities will benefit either from learning more about the academic ideas that underlies their work – whether by taking practical charity management courses or courses related to various aspects of social justice and public policy or Catholic social teaching. In addition, it will be an effective bridge back into formal employment for people who are already volunteering for charities.

This is just the beginning of the development of service learning at St. Mary’s. We expect service though volunteering of other means to become embedded in other masters courses as well as in undergraduate programmes.

Service learning is an effective way for St. Mary’s to fulfil its mission and values. It promotes excellence by providing a novel way for students to develop a range of skills. It will also promote inclusion directly by giving students the opportunity to serve those most in need in the community. Perhaps most importantly, it will help students (many of whom may already be working) develop the habits, skills and virtues that will assist them in promoting the common good throughout their lives.

Further details of the programme can be found at:

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Author: Philip Booth

Published: 10th January 2022

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