More students are receiving course credits for volunteer work

Students in some Asian countries – such as Japan, Indonesia and South Korea – now earn credit hours for voluntary work, an incentive that builds volunteering into the university assessment system and promotes community work as an integral part of higher education.

Delegates in Selangor, Malaysia, for the AsiaEngage "Regional Conference on Higher Education-Industry-Community Engagement in Asia: Forging Meaningful Partnerships”, spoke of the importance of students gaining such experience.

The conference at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia heard how this work still goes largely unrecognised, partly because voluntary organisations have few direct links with universities – although informal connections run deep.

But this could be changing as universities and non-governmental organisations, some for student volunteering, collaborate in the AsiaEngage umbrella network of regional bodies that promote social and community engagement by Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) universities.

Take the Japan-based Network for Voluntary Development in Asia, or NVDA, a networking NGO promoting international voluntary service in the Asia and Pacific regions.

NVDA President Dr Kaizawa Shinichiro, who teaches at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, described how student voluntary work is progressing under a specially created course subject, ‘international volunteering’.

Shinichiro has organised special projects for Japanese students in 100 countries, mostly during university breaks.

“After students have completed their volunteering stint, they submit a report to me,” he said. “Input from the host country is important too.” Participating students gain credits based on their reports and host nation feedback, noted Shinichiro.

NVDA also works with the Hong Kong Institute of Education to place its student volunteers in several Asian countries including Mongolia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Japan and Nepal.

Shinichiro and NVDA youth volunteers were in Fukushima, Japan, to help rehabilitate an area devastated by the 2011 tsunami. They cleaned up a forest area and planted trees. Fukushima saw minimal participation by university students as volunteers, though, mainly because it did not need much external help, Shinichiro said.

Indonesian students volunteer nationally. “They are not only rewarded with credits [from their own universities] but sometimes their voluntary work is also financed by NVDA’s Indonesian team,” Shinichiro said.

Indeed, 85% of students from Japan volunteering for 3,000 projects in 100 countries, and 70% of students from other countries, have so far volunteered for NVDA community projects.

Some Asian universities have set up three-way partnerships with both NGOs and industry.

Francesco Volpini, director of the Paris-based Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service, or CCIVS, which runs an international volunteer programme, told how South Korean engineering giant Hyundai Corporation supports voluntary work by thousands of university students in countries such as India, China and Brazil, where the company manufactures.

South Korean medical students, for example, went to Chennai in India to run health checks on villagers and teach local people how to do this for themselves.

While some South Korean universities give credits for voluntary service, there is no comprehensive system for reporting what is learned, Volpini noted.

He felt that recognition of learning through community service could be achieved by integrating such activities into the curriculum, although this would not necessarily reflect the entire learning experience.

“We would like to see the education value recognised, not just as part of their study programme, [but also] including soft skills that they acquire and that are not taught in the university environment,” he urged.

These softer skills include communication, intercultural learning, self-confidence, initiative, leadership and teamwork.

CCIVS, which operates under the aegis of UNESCO and is the first NGO member of AsiaEngage, wants to work closely with universities in Asia to bring this about.

AsiaEngage is a platform by means of which a group of ASEAN regional networks and programmes share expertise, knowledge and experience in community engagement across the ASEAN region and Asia in general.