This study explores the historical construction of student volunteering in higher education (HE) and the implications of this process for present-day organisational structures and common understandings. This critical-historical analysis, which focuses on the Israeli HE field, draws from archival data spanning the 1970s–2000s, from two leading Israeli universities. The findings reveal three major debates surrounding the historical development and shaping of student volunteering in Israeli HE: over the purpose and nature of volunteering activities; over making volunteering a mandatory requirement; and over awarding academic credits for volunteering. I show how these debates embody critical tensions about the meanings of ‘volunteering’ itself, as well as about universities’ mission, unequal power relations within universities, academic autonomy, students’ freedom of choice, and the role of universities in society. Furthermore, I show that, while critical literature on student volunteering highlights the tensions embedded in the current neo-liberal climate of HE, contemporary framing and structures of volunteering–such as the logic of individualisation, the organisational structure of monitoring and control, and demands for benefits for those who volunteer–are based on and shaped by debates that took place decades in the past.
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The notion of volunteering in exchange for financial aid grants is currently normalised in the Israeli HE system. On the one hand, students who choose to volunteer in organised community engagement activities, including the national individual tutoring programme, can receive scholarships. Yet, in addition, students who receive financial aid grants owing to low socio-economic status are required to ‘give back’ by volunteering. The historical contextualisation of this policy reveals how the institutionalisation of volunteering is embedded in questions of power and equity (Puckering, ). While universities’ management strongly opposed initiatives for mandatory volunteering for all students, it embraced the idea of obligating students who receive financial aid scholarships to volunteer.
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- community engagement
- historical research
- Student volunteering
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