Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


36.  Joint memorandum submitted by Student Volunteering England and the National Union of Students

1.  INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION

  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 each year.

  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.  PARTICULAR AREAS OF POLICY

  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 projects—who 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 AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

  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 equality.

  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 students' involvement.

  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.  RECOMMENDATIONS

  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.

Jo Clements

Information and Policy Officer

Student Volunteering England

2 December 2005



 
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