28 Jan 2009

A different way of paying off student debt

9:25 pm on 28 January 2009

Australia's Education Minister is promoting the idea of students paying off their university debts by doing volunteer work.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard says it would encourage them to be more altruistic.

But the Opposition says the scheme is "deeply flawed" and amounts to little more than middle-class welfare.

Under the proposal - first mooted at last year's 2020 Summit - students could work off their university HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) debt by joining a community corps and doing jobs like delivering meals on wheels, working for youth services or helping the disabled.

The average student finishes university with a $12,000 debt, which takes about a decade to repay.

Ms Gillard says the idea deserves serious consideration and she doesn't think the cost of managing such a scheme would outweigh its benefits.

A 'disincentive' to volunteer helpers

But Opposition education spokesperson Christopher Pyne says the scheme would only assist well-off students who live with their parents and therefore have the time to volunteer.

"Struggling students ... are working in what spare time they have to pay rent while studying," Mr Pyne says.

The community corps would also act as a "disincentive" to volunteers who offer their time for free out of a genuine desire to help the community.