Page last updated at 02:30 GMT, Sunday, 6 December 2009

Graduates should pay for civic service, Demos says

Students could mentor primary school children as part of the scheme

Graduates should pay a higher rate of interest on their student loans to pay for a national civic service scheme, a report by Demos think tank has said.

It also called for university students to do 100 hours of community service and employers to let workers carry out one week of civic service every year.

It says graduates should put something back in return for their education.

The government backed the call for a civic service but rejected suggestions to make students pay for it.

The report called Service Nation said £450m was needed to set up a civic service that could see £1bn in economic and social returns.

The service would help communities, ease the burden on public services and make young people more employable, the report said.

Those who have gained most - graduates and the employed - must also give something back
Sonia Sodha, report author

It would see people mentoring young children, working on environmental projects or being a community support officer with the police.

Sonia Sodha, one of the report's authors, said a 2.5% interest rate on student loans would be a "fair levy" for those benefiting from state-subsidised education.

The report estimated that university graduates earn on average £600,000 more over their lifetimes than non-graduates.

She said: "Civic service needs to be for everyone, not just a route out of employment or disengagement for the explosion of Neets (young people not in employment, education or training) caused by the recession.

"Those who have gained most - graduates and the employed - must also give something back."

Higher education minister David Lammy said he hoped the recommendations for a national civic service would find their way into the next Labour manifesto.

'More altruistic, less parochial'

"In a consumerist age young people need more opportunities to develop an ethic of service to others.

"In a multi-cultural Britain we must bring together young people from different backgrounds to encounter and work alongside one another.

"For a more altruistic, less parochial youth culture we need a national civic service."

He added: "How you fund it is another issue. Students wouldn't be my choice and that isn't government policy."

Other recommendations made in the report include:

• All 11- to 16-year-old children to take part in a "social action project" as part of the curriculum. This could include mentoring primary school children.

• Means-tested grants and subsidised loans for 18- to 24-year-olds enabling them to take part in full-time service schemes.

• Jobseekers' Allowance paid to young jobseekers carrying out civic service.

The US scheme, Americorps, which recruits young people to help out in deprived and inner city areas for 10 months, was said have inspired the proposals.

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