This paper develops a conceptual framework to understand the value of an increasing number of university study programmes that send students to the global south to learn through volunteering. We ask what determines the benefit that these activities bring to the host community. To understand this, we conceptualise these activities as student volunteerism and propose a framework to understand the value of these activities based on a previously developed framework for volunteer tourism. We examine a single case study of a minor programme in a Dutch university, exploring how course design and student selection affect student behaviour as an antecedent step to creating student benefits. We identify six kinds of factors that appear to promote ‘deeper’ (better) contributions and argue that these six factors require further analysis to better realise university contributions to societal development in Global South contexts.