Abbott’s HECS Volunteering Plan “Needs More Work”
Thursday, 19th August 2010 at 1:26 pm
Volunteering Australia says any plan to set up a volunteer scheme to allow university students to offset some of their HECS debt needs much more work.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced that the coalition would initiate a pilot scheme if elected to Government, in response to a question during the Forum at the Broncos Leagues Club in Brisbane held last night.
Abbott told the audience that students who volunteered would receive $10 per hour, which would come off their tertiary study HECS debt.
The Labor Government also flagged a similar scheme in January 2010 based on an idea from the 2020 Summit.
Today the Liberal Party released more details about the scheme saying it will encourage the development of Australia’s next generation of community volunteers with a $7 million pilot volunteering program to be known as AUSCORPS.
Under the pilot program, up to 1,000 university students per year will be eligible to receive a $10 credit against their HECS debt for each hour of volunteer work they undertake, up to a maximum 200 hours or $2,000 per year.
Volunteering Australia CEO Cary Pedicini says he has concerns about the implementation of such a scheme and whether it addresses the ethical issues that challenged the traditional definition of volunteering.
Pedicini says one important concern was that any program should not be activated until students finished their studies and that the scheme did not add to the burden of their studies.
In a Position Paper released by Volunteering Australia after the 2020 Summitt, it said offsetting or reducing student debt through volunteering could be construed as financial payment for volunteering, which again is not consistent with current definitions of volunteering.
It said Volunteering Australia supports an initiative of encouragement and choice, without compulsion and with the benefits to individual participants not being likened to payments.
The Position Paper said it is the view of Volunteering Australia that the initiative as it has been articulated does not fit with the accepted definition of volunteering and as such Volunteering Australia does not recommend that a proposed scheme be considered as volunteering.
However it said Volunteering Australia believes that the initiative could be reframed as a “community investment” scheme – the Higher Education Community Investment Scheme (HECIS) – the reallocation of (student) debt to the Not for Profit sector in the form of time, commitment, skills and expertise.
In developing the HECIS scheme of “community investment” Volunteering Australia said it recognises that it would benefit volunteering in general, as research suggests exposure to active community participation in youth and through family involvement increases participation in adult life.
Volunteering Australia said it commends initiatives that increase opportunities for more people to engage with communities in the ways that they choose. Whilst it should not be viewed as volunteering, it said a scheme of “community investment” for students to reduce their HECS debt is one way to encourage greater engagement and create pathways to sustained volunteering that offers potential benefits to individuals, volunteer involving organisations and communities in general.
The Coalition responded today saying it recognises that no government could ever replace the work undertaken by Australia’s dedicated community volunteers and it’s important for government to leave space for community and volunteer activities.
The Liberal party has released a Fact Sheet about the proposed scheme that can be downloaded HERE.