The UNICORN model

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The UNICORN model combines student international mobility with an experience of service-learning & community engagement abroad. It is therefore a model of international service-learning (ISL). Compared to the existing examples of ISL, mainly from the US, the UNICORN model of ISL indeed represents a new and unique concept in many ways.

In order to understand the basics of the UNICORN model, it is important to specify that its implementation requires at least a sending HEI, a receiving HEI and a mobility agreement in place between them. The UNICORN students start their journey from the sending institution (where SL is not necessarily implemented) and make the UNICORN experience of ISL abroad, where the SL component is integrated in some curricular activity offered by the receiving HEI (e.g. course unit / summer school / research activities).

In the UNICORN framework, ISL can be implemented in three different ways, i.e. through physical (long- or short-term), blended or virtual mobility. While the first format is definitely the most widely adopted and overwhelmingly preferred over the others, alternative formats are not ruled out, especially after the recent experience of the pandemics that affected the world of higher education, and prevented any kind of physical mobility for a long while. During this period, the value of virtual or blended formats of ISL was confirmed. 

However, whatever the format of mobility is, either physical, blended or virtual, none of these scenarios involve ISL being conceived or offered as an extracurricular activity. On the contrary, in the UNICORN model the SL component is designed to be fully integrated in the student curriculum for ECTS credit and, when it entails physical mobility, it does not require extra funding by students. Also, from an institutional and organisational standpoint, the UNICORN mobility is not a disruptive addition to the regular mobility patterns of HEIs, but rather it is embedded in usual mobility procedures. Given these features, the UNICORN model of ISL is very inclusive for students and sustainable for the institutions involved.