36. Joint memorandum submitted by
Student Volunteering England and the National Union of Students |
1.1 Student Volunteering England supports
a unique network of students and practitioners engaged in student
community volunteering. We work towards ensuring every student
has the opportunity to volunteer and make a positive difference
in their community and beyond.
1.2 On an individual level we work with
student volunteering groups, student leaders, and student volunteering
practitioners, by acting as a forum for sharing good ideas and
good practice, offering advice and information resources to improve
the quality of student volunteering.
1.3 Nationally, we promote the achievements
of student volunteers to the public, the voluntary sector and
people in power. We facilitate networking opportunities for both
students and practitioners, and enable them to contribute to legislative
developments and implement policy changes.
1.4 The National Union of Students (NUS)
is one of the largest student organisations in the world, representing
the interests of around five million students in further and higher
education throughout the United Kingdom. NUS provides research,
representation, training and expert advice for individual students
and students' unions and deals with over 15,000 welfare enquiries
1.5 These points highlighted below are made
following continued questions and issues raised with Student Volunteering
England by workers in the student volunteering sector who are
confused as to what extent international students are allowed
to participate in volunteering projects, what the barriers are
and why these exist. Our comments below address the Committee's
terms of reference.
2.1 Students are currently issued with two
types of visa which affect their ability to volunteer in two distinct
ways. Students can obtain a "restrictive" visa meaning
they can volunteer for 20 hours a week or a "prohibitive"
visa which prevents them entirely from volunteering. Current regulations
classify volunteering as work which in turn makes it subject to
the same limitations as paid and unpaid work.
2.2 This categorisation and the two tier
visa system applied to it creates confusion both for students
wanting to be involved with volunteering and practitioners who
co-ordinate volunteering projectswho remain unsure as to
whether international students can legitimately participate in
volunteering activities. There is anecdotal evidence of international
students being involved with volunteering projects, exemplifying
the difficulty in policing any restrictions. We would recommend
that the policy was changed to allow all international students
to volunteer, which is a more straight-forward policy, and would
remove any need for policing.
2.3 Student Volunteering England can see
no valid reasons to prevent students from volunteering or to limit
their involvement in volunteering activities. Students are a clearly
defined and distinct group of people different from other overseas
visitors who are perhaps seeking asylum or who apply to be given
entry to the UK specifically to be "voluntary workers."
Students have a primary purpose to be in this country which is
to study. They have a time limit to their stay which is dictated
by the length of their course. Given the unique nature of the
student experience, Student Volunteering England can see no logical,
practical or moral reason why the student body should be subject
to the same rules as other immigrants.
3. RACIAL EQUALITY
3.1 Volunteering is a core part of, for
example, the Hindu and Muslim faiths which are followed by a large
number of international students. By preventing students from
volunteering, these students are effectively prevented from fulfilling
their religious obligations. Furthermore, institutions have a
positive duty under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to
take action to promote race equality, eliminate unlawful discrimination,
promote good race relations between different racial groups and
promote equality of opportunity. Since international students
contribute significantly to the racial diversity within UK institutions,
unnecessary restrictions on volunteering opportunities betray
the welcome, positive duty placed on institutions to promote race
3.2 The feeling of obligation to volunteer
can also be cultural. Students from the United States of America,
for example, want to volunteer as it is a strong part of their
culture. When international students who want to volunteer for
cultural or religious reasons are prevented from doing so it creates
a social divide as participation is denied.
3.3 International students have the right
to play a full and active part in their educational environment.
Volunteering is becoming an increasingly central part in the student
experience and it is wrong to place restrictions on international
3.4 International students are crucial to
a successful and thriving Higher Education system. They contribute
enormously to education, research and student life and more than
£5 billion each year to the UK economy. The UK will lose
out within the international student market if international students'
needs are constantly overlooked. In 2003-04 there were 213,000
international students in UK higher education institutions and
they are estimated to bring in £10.2 billion to the UK economy,
including £1.25 billion in tuition fees. More and more international
students, especially Asian students, who represent a big part
of the market in the UK, might want to go and study at more welcoming
and open Asian study destinations, or in countries such as Canada
and Australia, which are actively marketing themselves to international
students. This fear has already materialised: figures published
by the admissions service Ucas confirmed the fears of vice-chancellors,
showing acceptances from China for 2005-06 are down by 21.3% from
4,401 to 3,464 and Malaysia by 4.1% from 1,737 to 1,666.
3.5 By allowing international students to
volunteer in the wider community they will learn more about the
country they are visiting and local residents will gain a greater
understanding of groups they may otherwise feel hostile towards.
4.1 The international student body is a
huge and untapped resource for volunteering activities. Overseas
students want to be involved with the UK and in the local community
in which they temporarily reside. Volunteering can be a real force
for good encouraging community cohesion, increased learning and
understanding. By enabling international students to volunteer
current projects will be able to grow and new projects will be
developed bringing benefits for individuals, communities and the
country as a whole.
4.2 Therefore we recommend:
(1) That volunteering is identified in its
own right and categorised separately from paid and unpaid work.
This would prevent volunteering from being unnecessarily limited
and adversely affected by current employment restrictions.
(2) That the current two tier visa system
(prohibitive and restrictive) for international students is streamlined
to one type of visa which will enable all international students
to volunteer, with no time restriction on their volunteering activity
save that prescribed by the length of their course of study.
(3) That the Home Office engages in consultation
with Student Volunteering England and other key stakeholders organisations.
Information and Policy Officer
Student Volunteering England
2 December 2005