The National University of Singapore (NUS) has set itself the aim of becoming a fully cashless campus sometime in the new academic year — which starts in August and ends in May next year — with all food operators and retailers providing various cashless payment options and no longer accepting cash.
However, the initiative — which was announced to students and NUS staff through an internal email on Monday (April 16) — has triggered concerns among sections of its student population.
A petition has been started against the move, citing worries such as the lack of “inclusiveness” and the unreliable and “erratic nature” of the Wi-Fi connection on campus which could affect access to cashless payments.
In response to media queries about the students’ concerns, an NUS spokesperson assured that the initiative will be rolled out in phases, as “the intent is to give users sufficient time to be familiar with the various cashless payment options”.
However, NUS did not specify the exact timeline of the transition into a cashless campus.
The university first implemented various cashless payment options such as DBS PayLah! in its canteens and food courts last year. Other modes such as credit cards, Nets, OCBC Pay Anyone, UOB Mighty, DBS/POSB Digibank, DBS iWealth, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are also available.
To encourage users, it also worked with Nets to introduce a 50 cents discount when users spend more than S$1.50 in a single transaction at the canteens or food courts on campus during the promotional period from April 1 to May 31.
Since the incentive was rolled out, more than 60 per cent of transactions at canteens and dining outlets have been made through cashless payments, NUS said. It expects a “higher take up rate” when payments made via via EZlink and FlashPay cards are available from June.
“The university is taking a phased approach to progressively introduce the concept of a cashless campus, and this in line with Singapore’s drive towards a cashless society,” the NUS spokesperson said.
In the internal email titled “Towards a Cashless Campus”, NUS noted the “encouraging response” to the Nets tie-up. As a result of that, “we are confident to roll out our plan to introduce a cashless campus in the new Academic Year 2018/19”, it told students.
It added: “Going cashless will facilitate the introduction of other initiatives which will benefit the community, such as pre-ordering food in the comfort of your classroom or office, and delivery of food to your location wherever you are on campus etc.”
Still, students and canteen vendors whom TODAY interviewed were not fully sold on the idea. Most of them said they would find it hard to do away with cash completely.
A second year business student who gave her name only as Ms Ng said “it gets very messy” and confusing when students encounter lag time in their apps when ordering food.
“Whenever we queue for food, you can see everyone is trying to load their app… and sometimes you have to wait for people in front trying to figure out how it works, or check if the vendor has received the payment,” she said.
Agreeing, a first year business student Yu Liang said it could take one to two minutes to wait for the payment to go through, especially during peak hours.
Western food seller Stephanie Lee, 40, said a lot of time is “wasted” on trying to track if cashless transactions go through successfully, and vendors may also find it troublesome to pay their suppliers if they do not have cash on hand.
NUS said in its media reply that “efforts are underway to improve the technical infrastructure” to support cashless transactions. Its spokesperson reiterated that it welcomes feedback from various stakeholders to improve the user experience, and will “continue to engage students who have provided their views and suggestions”.
Meanwhile, other higher learning institutes TODAY contacted said they have no plans to go fully cashless.
Ms Giselia Giam, the senior director of finance and corporate services at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), said the university “currently has no plans to go fully cashless, although we do have the facilities for it”.
Currently, it uses a “hybrid” payment system where one can choose to pay via cash or card at its food and beverage (F&B) and other retail outlets, she added.
The Singapore Institute of Management, which is co-located with the Singapore University of Social Sciences, also has no plans to stop accepting cash on its campus.
The Singapore Management University said it currently “does not make it a requirement for our retail and dining outlets to go fully cashless”. Its spokesperson added: “Most of the retail merchants on our campus, including F&B outlets and food court, are already offering cashless payment options. Cash is also accepted at these establishments.”
A Nanyang Technological University (NTU) spokesperson said that under its Smart Campus initiative announced in January, it is “encouraging and promoting more cash-free transactions, such as through the all-in-one Smart Pass which can also be used for other purposes, including access to campus facilities and off-campus services such as public transport”.
To date, more than 90 per cent of canteens and retail operators on NTU’s campus accept cashless transactions, on top of accepting cash or other electronic payment methods such as credit cards, the spokesperson said.