OPINION: Hot Issue - Should students be rewarded financially for volunteering?

The Institute for Public Policy Research recently published a report suggesting that students should be encouraged to volunteer in exchange for financial aid. A similar system exists in the US where students are given credit for community work. However, some believe this undermines a key principle of volunteering.

Judith Jenner, development adviser for youth work, YMCA - YES

The debate about who pays for education continues in many quarters and there are many takes on it depending whether you are a student, parent, university policy maker, politician or tax payer.

Taken at face value, any opportunity to reduce the cost of university education for individual students should be considered and given support.

But the actual cash will have to come from somewhere. If this is public money then is it fair that the assessment criteria measure the individual's contribution to the community in preference to their (or their family's) means as with the old grant system?

The reality is that work equals remuneration rather than the more altruistic approach decades ago.

On balance, payment is recognition for the work students do as volunteers and would therefore be a good thing.

John Ramsey, network volunteer co-ordinator, Student Volunteering UK - NO

The basis of all volunteering is that it is not done for financial reward.

The idea that has been suggested is contrary to this and therefore is not volunteering. It is based on the Work Study Programme in US which talks in terms of "community work

and "activism

rather than volunteering.

We do welcome research into financial credits for community work and, indeed, any other way that encourages more students to get involved with their local community.

At present students who volunteer in their community are given the appropriate support to ensure their experience is one where they can grow personally and professionally. The lure of financial aid could turn volunteering into a "battery farm

where students churn out the time to earn more credits.

Equally, the most important right any volunteer has is the right to say "no". Once you introduce financial incentives into the equation we would be concerned that the volunteer becomes a quasi-employee and loses that element of choice.

Barbara Williams, volunteering partners manager, CSV - YES

CSV believes everyone should have the chance to invest a year in helping to meet community needs. CSV volunteers receive accommodation, food and £27 pocket money each week. The decline in student grants has excluded some from volunteering since they need to earn money to reduce their debts.

Student credits for full- or part- time volunteering would create equality of opportunity for young people.

In the US, Americorps gives students who do community work up to $5,000 towards their higher education costs. This gives young people the opportunity to learn workplace skills.

Since 1962, CSV has pioneered gap-year volunteering for young people, offering full-time placements. We act as a broker, setting up partnerships with state and voluntary agencies which need volunteers. Partners meet the costs of hosting volunteers, showing that this need not cost the Treasury a lot more money.

Our schools, the NHS, social services and environmental organisations need the energy of young people. Volunteering incentives will get more students involved in projects. Imagine what could be achieved.

Christopher Spence, chief executive, The National Centre for Volunteering - YES

Of course it's arguable whether or not this is volunteering in its strict definition and we should think through the potential impact on less overtly rewarded volunteering.

But the idea has worked in the US for the Americorps programme and I think it's unhelpful to polarise the debate into one about the relative merits of "pure

volunteering versus paid or quasi-paid work. Most organised volunteering includes incentives such as training, support, leadership development, accreditation and so on.

Cash-strapped students may welcome credits towards the cost of their education. They may also prefer meaningful community involvement to the low-status, low-paid work otherwise open to them. Then there's a chance, while picking up invaluable skills and experience, that they'll be role models for others who haven't yet thought of continuing their own education.

Finally, they'll be more likely to be active in their communities later in life.

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