Undergraduates were urged this week to commit more time to voluntary work as new figures suggested that student volunteers devote only 82 hours a year to their community.
Research for the charity Student Volunteering England indicates that 42,000 students give more than 3.4 million hours of their time to good causes each year, equivalent to a £42 million contribution to the British economy.
But the charity said that the number of volunteers represented 2 per cent of the student population, adding that everyone in higher education should be encouraged to do voluntary work.
Will Venters, chairman of SVE, said: "Students who volunteer are more employable, have a wider range of key skills than can be acquired in a lecture hall, are gaining a broader social perspective and are more likely to be active citizens throughout their lives.
"Volunteering benefits not only the community, but students themselves. We believe every student in England should have the opportunity to volunteer and we want to increase the number of those involved in volunteering to 100,000 by 2006."
Dr Venters' comments come as the Home Office and the Treasury consider whether public funds should be made available to encourage young people to undertake voluntary work, particularly during gap years.
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, announced in his March Budget that 2005 would be designated British Year of the Volunteer. He said the two departments would consider ways to extend student mentoring and establish a national community service scheme.
In May, the government appointed Ian Russell, chief executive of ScottishPower, to chair a commission into voluntary work. It is expected to produce a draft national youth volunteering strategy by the end of the year.
Mr Brown's announcement followed a report by the Fabian Society, a left-of-centre think-tank, which recommends that young people who volunteered in the public sector, on heritage or conservation projects during their gap years be awarded a £3,000 credit.
It suggests that students could use the credit to cover the cost of training or one year's worth of tuition fees.