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Volunteer plan may cut student debts

Students who do voluntary work in the holidays could have their loan repayments reduced, under a plan by a left-wing think-tank.

In D-I-Y Britain, a pamphlet published this week by the Fabian Society, James McCormick says: "The Government has a responsibility to ensure that the value of volunteers' unpaid work is recognised and accredited."

Mr McCormick, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, says other incentives could include help with the cost of learning to drive, acquiring a language, or travel.

Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of Community Service Volunteers, another contributor to the pamphlet, says any voluntary project has to avoid looking like "another youth training scheme". This could be achieved if businesses guarantee job interviews to volunteers and recognise that certificates given to volunteers are proof of valuable experience.

Labour has said it wants to get 100,000 18 to 25 year-olds into voluntary work by 2000. The scheme, Millennium Volunteers, will be "kick-started" with Pounds 15m from the windfall tax on the "excess" profits of the privatised utilities. Labour hopes to match that from corporate investment.

In the foreword to D-I-Y Britain, Labour's David Blunkett says: "Volunteering will offer young people a chance to improve their skills, develop a new sense of responsibility and increase their employability."

Possible problems are not ignored in the pamphlet. Tim Brighouse, chief education officer in Birmingham, admits that some teachers may see more volunteers in schools as a replacement for new paid staff. But he believes "most energetic schools will want to be involved in a development like this".

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