Nats man has HECs plan

by ALEX EASTON

VANESSA VITKO only wanted a chance to help people.

But if Nationals candidate for Page Chris Gulaptis gets his way, Ms Vitko's decision to do volunteer work for the St Vincent de Paul Society while studying exercise science and nutrition at Southern Cross University could result in her getting some help with her HECS fees.

Mr Gulaptis wants students who do volunteer work with organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, Meals-on-Wheels, the SES, and the Rural Fire Service, to be given a discount off their HECS.

Added to that, Mr Gulaptis said he would like to see financial support for students at regional universities, such as Southern Cross University, increased to take account of higher costs often faced by country students.

Mr Gulaptis conceded he had argued neither idea to the Government so far, but said they were two of the issues he would fight for in the lead-up to this year's Federal election.

The idea was welcomed by Southern Cross University's Student Representative Council, but got a cool reception from Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop, who said schemes involving changes to HECS generally did not work.

The two plans would bring obvious benefits to the students and the organisations they did volunteer work with, but they would also help the broader community by freeing up casual jobs presently taken by students and strengthening the university.

"There are only so many jobs at macca farms," Mr Gulaptis said. "This way, people who don't go to uni can use that job to supplement their main income.

"There are 5000 full-time students at Southern Cross University. If they have a higher allowance, their dependence on local jobs will not be so high and it may help drive more students to regional universities."

Reducing HECS fees for students who do volunteer work would help the students and organisations scratching to find new volunteers.

"Volunteer numbers are dropping. This would be a great way of meeting that ... while giving students a sense of responsibility," he said.

Ms Vitko, 20, has only just started doing volunteer work for St Vincent de Paul, saying it was something she had always wanted to do, but had lacked the time before moving down from Brisbane and starting at the university at the start of this year.

"It makes you feel really good, but it also gives you more of an idea of where you want to go with your own life," she said.

Her initial reaction to Mr Gulaptis' plan was one of indignation ? saying that if students were rewarded for volunteering they would no longer truly be volunteers.

"I always thought, if you could just get people down here they will see that it's really good," she said.

"At the same time, you want people to really want to do it ? not just for the money."

However, Ms Vitko agreed she would be happy to get her HECS reduced for the volunteer work.

She said many students would take up the offer, if it were made.

Student Representative Council president Michael Lambert said the volunteer idea would be popular, but would need the increased student support to give students time to volunteer.



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