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Warning to carefully cost community corps ide -

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Warning to carefully cost community corps idea

Reporter: Sara Everhingham

ELEANOR HALL: One of the other big ideas to emerge from last weekend's 2020 summit was a community
core program that would see university students pay off their HECS debt through community service.

The Prime Minister has already indicated that he'll consider the idea.

But there are warnings from others that the program would need to be carefully costed and that
students from low socio-economic backgrounds could miss out.

Sara Everingham has our report.

SARA EVERINGHAM: It was one of the proposals put forward by the productivity stream at the 2020
summit - giving university students the option of doing volunteer work as a way of paying off their
HECS debts.

Tit's an idea that's welcome news to the CEO of Volunteering Australia Cary Pedicini.

CARY PEDICINI: We were very interested in the concept when we saw it and we welcome the Prime
Minister's response to broadly saying that we do need more volunteers.

SARA EVERINGHAM: According to Volunteering Australia about 30 per cent of people aged between 18
and 24 already do some form of volunteer work.

But Cary Pedicini says there are 10,000 volunteer positions still unfilled in Australia and he says
the community core program would be a good way to get people involved in volunteering at an earlier
age.

CARY PEDICINI: I think our experience has been that if people have an early experience whether it
is through a school volunteering program, they experience the benefits and remember the benefits
are not just to the community, the organisations or the individuals they are helping.

SARA EVERINGHAM: How do you think something like this could work?

CARY PEDICINI: Well, firstly the number of over-riding principles I think that are important that
if it is to be voluntary initiative, it needs to be consistent with the principles of volunteering
- that it obviously needs to be of benefit to the community and to the volunteer and that it must
be at the volunteers own free will and without coercion and I think we would have to be very
careful that those two things were preserved.

I would also be very mindful that students already have a heavy burden in their years of study just
managing to survive and work and study so I wouldn't want to see something like this be initiated
until after students had completed their studies.

SARA EVERINGHAM: The National Union of students agrees the scheme should only kick in once students
have left university

But even then NUS (National Union of Students) President Angus McFarland is worried it could still
be unfair.

ANGUS MCFARLAND: Some law firms I know, top tier law forms with mandate community service or
volunteer work. Now if people are able to accredit that towards these HECs discount, is that really
fair if you compare that to say a teacher or a nurse who works full-time and in a sense, their
work, well it is not volunteer work because they are paid but it is such a great community service.

SARA EVERINGHAM: He also says it's unlikely the scheme would help more students from lower
socio-economic backgrounds go to university.

ANGUS MCFARLAND: If you are from a low SES background, you are far more likely to struggle to
survive as a university student and live in poverty as a university student and therefore your
ability to give up time on top of that for volunteer work is very limited because you would be
struggling to pay your rent, just pay your basic food costs and study expenses.

So, I think actually low SES students are the ones that are least likely to be able to access HECS
discounts if they were for current university students doing volunteer work.

SARA EVERINGHAM: And then there's the question of how much it will cost.

The Director of Education and Training for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mary
Hicks says it's something that will need to be carefully considered.

MARY HICKS: At the moment you've got a whole system that's been based on money going to
universities to support student places and then a repayment method that repays that money at a
later point in time and there is a certain effect on the economy that that would have and on the
government budget if that was to be changed.

ELEANOR HALL: Mary Hicks is the Director of Education and Training at the Australian Chamber of
Commerce and Industry. She was speaking to Sara Everingham.