Liberal Democrats leapt on last week's pre-budget announcement that students will be able to volunteer in return for a reduction in tuition fees as a "gimmick" for the few, writes Claire Sanders.
"New schemes to encourage people into higher education are an admission that tuition fees have deterred potential students," said Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesman.
"Instead of gimmicks that will affect only a few, the Chancellor needs to address the unjust situation faced by part-time students, who still have to pay fees upfront rather than after graduation."
It is understood that about 1,500 young people would be involved in the first stage of the programme next autumn, although details have yet to be published.
Students themselves offered a cautious welcome. Graham Allcott, chief executive of Student Volunteering England, said: "Of course, any attempt to encourage more students into volunteering is welcome. More than 42,000 students volunteer of their own free will, and without cash incentives we would be loath to see the definition of volunteering change."
The Chancellor has long supported volunteering as a way of developing citizenship skills. He has been strongly influenced by the AmeriCorps scheme in the US, which enables volunteers to work on community projects in return for a small educational and living allowance.
Last year, he announced an investment of about £100 million, with an additional £50 million from businesses, to encourage volunteering.
Wes Streeting, National Union of Student vice-president for education, said: "While the will to volunteer is there for many students, often financial constraints make this kind of activity impossible."
One possible model involves volunteers being paid about £60 a week for a 40-week stint.