The overall theme of the EVS is sustainable development in Europe. Problems of sustainable development are typically complex and perspectives on the nature and solution of these problems are likely to vary with national, cultural and disciplinary background. Transboundary competence, the ability to communicate and collaborate across the boundaries of nation, culture and discipline, is therefore an essential competence for sustainable development. In the EVS students with different national and disciplinary backgrounds work together in a small group, doing research on a case study in the field of sustainable development, and have to deliver a group report and policy summary that reflects and integrates the views of all group members on the sustainability issue at stake. The heterogeneous student groups are an excellent learning environment to develop transboundary abilities, as the students experience differences in perspective in a very direct way and have to come to a joint solution of the problem.
The learning process in the EVS differs greatly from that in mainstream education. There are no lectures in an EVS, the students have to work in international, multidisciplinary groups, the group members cannot organise face-to-face meetings, and all collaboration and social processes depend on communication using modern ICT. Moreover, the learning process is spread over a relatively long period (i.e. 16 weeks) so as to create the best possible conditions for virtual collaborative learning and to allow the students to participate in the EVS alongside their regular study programmes. To support such an exceptional learning process, the EVS is divided into four stages:
- orientation and student selection (2 weeks)
- group forming and community-building (2 weeks)
- writing group research proposal (4 weeks)
- research case study and writing group report (8 weeks).
The topics students are dealing with in the EVS are both current and authentic. The case studies offered in a specific year are a subset of the overall set of cases on offer: