IGNITE was recently contacted by a group of six UNMC students who have been circulating a memorandum regarding the UNMC Cash Card (which has been implemented campus-wide since 1 November 2015). We sat down with Director of Campus Services Mr Nicholas Ching to discuss some the issues and questions raised.
The Need for Data
As Mr Ching has previously emphasized, the decision to move away from the voucher system under Sodexo to the Cash Card system was motivated by the need to record each on-campus transaction and use the aggregated data to better predict the seasonal demand for food. As Provost Christine Ennew noted in an earlier interview, the demand for food fluctuates greatly, since the number of staff and students on campus drops drastically during weekends, exam periods and in between semesters.
The memorandum raised the question of whether compulsory cash receipts could be issued instead, to reduce the possibility of unreported transactions and employee theft. Mr Ching noted that unreported transactions could still occur even when receipts are issued as a standard practice, citing the common practices of allowing the customer a free purchase if a receipt was not issued and the use of CCTVs as a means for businesses to better ensure that their employees recorded each transaction.
He concluded that the Cash Card system was a better means of preventing the problem: “Using a cash card instead of cash transactions reduces (but does not eliminate) the chance of under-reported sales. Most companies make allowances for losses due to unrecorded transactions”.
While the Cash Card’s tagline is ‘Experience the Cashless Convenience’, the issue of inconvenience had also been raised by various students via social media, and the memorandum pointed out the inconvenience incurred when (1) topping up the Cash Card; (2) visitors to UNMC (parents, visiting lecturers, guest speakers, etc.) needed to purchase food; (3) facing the inability to top up amounts below RM 50 without incurring the RM 0.30 reload fee.
Mr Ching explained that 24 hour self-service kiosks are expected to be operational by December 2015, and thus stated that the inconvenience of topping up the Cash Card is a temporary issue. He also pointed out that extra top-up counters have been set up in the SA Cafeteria as an alternative to the Student Services Center, but the data revealed that more students were choosing to top-up at the Student Services Center (RM 20,000 – 30,000 per day, as opposed to RM 2,000 – 3, 000). He also pointed out that while students may have to line up to top-up their cards, the amount of time spent lining up for food purchases in the cafeteria had been reduced, since the vendors did not have to spend time finding change for cash purchases.
As for the issue of non-regular food purchasers, Mr Ching noted that the option for visitors to purchase Cash Cards is available, and that visitors could also simply borrow the Cash Card of a UNMC student or staff to make that occasional purchase. He also explained that visitors could also purchase food via cash, and the vendor would record the transaction via his or her own Cash Card.
When asked if it would be possible for students to top-up the Cash Card for amounts below RM 20, Mr Ching pointed out that topping up with small amounts on a regular basis added to the inconvenience. He admitted that he would need to wait for the statistics to come in before making any further amendments, but shared his observation that most students had been topping up their Cash Cards with RM 50 and RM 100.
The SA info-graphic explains the reasons for adopting the cashless system
Welfare of the Vendors
The petitioners also raised concerns about the problems of cash flow for the stall vendors at UNMC, since they have to wait for the Finance Office to reimburse them for the sales revenue made via the Cash Card, and the dual rental system that they have signed on to: RM 1,000 per month and 10% of sales revenue.
Mr Ching pointed out that the vendors receive their sales revenue in cash each week, for the past week’s revenue. As for the dual rental system, he argued that it is only fair if the rental rates reflect the seasonal variation in demand and opined that students do not have to worry about stall vendors being ‘exploited’ by the university, or of high rental costs being passed on to them: “If any operator thinks we are ripping them off, I will certainly welcome them to terminate their contract and withdraw from the contract. I don’t think any of them want to go, I think they’re very happy doing business here. These students are not operators, and therefore don’t have the right to speak on their behalf and say that we are ripping them off … They’re able to make some money and fulfil the university requirement of charging low prices. You can find affordable food, and quality-wise it’s not bad. There’s even an operator who opens 24 hours.”
Merging the Cash Card with the Student ID Card
Mr Ching acknowledged the fact that the UK and Ningbo campuses have integrated the functions of the ID card and the Cash Card into one, and noted that the same possibility is being explored at UNMC. Since there are technical hurdles to overcome and the UNMC management prefers to reduce the amount of data on the card, this possibility was deemed unlikely to materialize in the near future.
Mr Ching also revealed that there are advantages to having separate cards. He revealed plans to have students and staff members use the Cash Card when getting on and off the transport services (without paying), to allow for data to be collected for the provision of more efficient transport services. Since the Cash Card would be accessible to visitors and spouses of postgraduate students who lacked ID cards, they would still have access to the system.
Lack of Consultation with Students
The memorandum also raised concerns about the level of consultation with students and staff members prior to the decision to implement the Cash Card system. They argued that it had been implemented “without effective and crucial consultation of the greatest stake holders in the institution – the students, teachers, and administration staff.”
Mr Ching noted that the decision to implement the Cash Card had been made before he was appointed as the Director of Campus Services at UNMC, and that he had not seen any of the survey questions regarding the Cash Card or the survey results: “I don’t know the sampling size and I did not conduct the survey. I’ve neither seen the questions nor the results.”
IGNITE also contacted the 2015-16 SA Executive Officers to see if they had been consulted on the decision to implement the Cash Card System. SA Vice President Afrah Ismail noted that SA President Aqeel Deen and himself had sat in on management meetings concerning operational matters of the Cash Card system, but the decision to implement the system had been made before they came to office. The 2014-15 SA Executive Team were also not aware of any surveys being conducted, and the issue had not been presented to the 2014-15 Student Council.
Mr Ching acknowledged that some students and staff members are yet to sign on to the Cash Card system (over 2,300 cards had been purchased so far), but opined that it was only a matter of time before everyone signed on. He compared the Cash Card to the ‘Touch N’ Go’ Cards, which are currently being used to pay toll fees on the highway, and when boarding RapidKL buses, the LRT, and the KTM: “In other industries, that’s the direction that people are going. Banks have debit cards and credit cards. Electronic is the way. On phones now, you have the ewallet and other similar systems; all this is the direction of the future.”
The dual cash-and-card system being championed by the manifesto would thus only be seriously considered if the petitioners could prove that a significant number of students are in favor of it. According to petitioner Aneez Yuliani Yuslizar, 515 signatures have been collected so far.
By Augustine Chay and Eunice Quah