It has been criticised as economically inefficient, paid “volunteering”, and middle-class welfare. However these criticisms of the “Community Corps” concept fail to recognise its inherent flexibility, and its potential in the current economic climate.
“Community Corps” is the idea to enable students to have their HECS debt reduced by using the skills they have acquired at university on socially beneficial undertakings, such as working in the not-for-profit sector. The scheme would be targeted at those students who would like to work for a charitable cause but whose time is constrained by the need to earn money to fund their education.
This idea was devised in late 2007 by a student organisation at Sydney University called “180 Degrees”. It was then submitted for consideration at the 2020 Summit, where Kevin Rudd described it as one of the Summit’s “top ideas”.
It sounds good on paper, but will the idea work in practice?
We live in a different world now than the one we inhabited a year ago when the idea first hit the headlines. Charity organisations are stretched to capacity as demand for their services increases. An extra 300,000 people are expected to be unemployed by mid-2010, with the under-25 age group likely to be the hardest hit. The economy is in slowdown, with the IMF forecasting negative growth of 0.2 per cent for Australia this year.
The “Community Corps” scheme is no magic bullet, but it can help to address three different problems if properly devised to reflect the current economic climate.
Problem 1: overstretched charities
The benefit comes, not in the form of an army of photocopy soldiers, but through an injection of new ideas and problem-solving abilities. Tertiary students may have limited money and professional experience, but their education and skills make them a valuable resource to be harnessed for charitable enterprise.
Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education, has argued that quid pro quo charity assistance “will damage community spirit” (January 28). I respectfully disagree. First, the argument that it is not real volunteering, while true, is not an argument against the scheme itself.
It is the social outcome and not the process that should be the focus.
Second: it would not undermine traditional volunteering any more than paid charity employees undermine traditional volunteering - which is to say, not much at all. Just because something is inherently worthwhile doesn’t mean service-providers should be banned from earning a living.
Third: it is wrong to uphold the status quo when the level of community involvement is low. Altruism grows out of engagement and exposure, and that is what the scheme provides. If anything it will foster, not diminish, civic values.
Fourth: unpaid positions within charity organisation will only become less appealing in light of the global financial crisis. Surely failing to help charities to meet demand for essential services will damage community spirit more than any debt-offset could.
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