Below is an open letter by a student, Tiffany Gwee to the National University of Singapore in response to its effort to transform the campus into a completely cashless campus at the start of its new academic year (2018/2019).
Dear Stephanie, Kelvin and Kang Rui
I am Tiffany, and am currently enrolled as a graduate student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I am thoroughly disappointed and upset to learn that NUS is going to transform to a completely cashless campus at the start of the new academic year (2018/19) following the e-mail with the subject: “Towards a Cashless Campus – An Initiative brought to you by Office of Campus Amenities (OCA)” dated 16 April 2018.
In this email I hope to raise some concerns I have regarding this sudden change, and I expect to receive an adequate and satisfactory reply to all the queries in this mail as these are serious issues with real life implications that (perhaps) this initiative overlooks.
I think it is important I state that I do not view the cashless option as something completely negative. I actually like that many NUS canteens have given us the option to go cashless, as I think it has lent great convenience to both students (especially so if they have forgotten to bring their wallets/do not have cash with them etc.) and some vendors (so they have more time to prepare food instead of collecting cash).
That being said, it should be obvious that to be partially cashless (where canteen vendors accept both cash AND cashless payments) is very, very different compared to being entirely or fully cashless. There are several important issues here that cannot be ignored:
First, this initiative is NOT inclusive of every member of society. I would think it’s rather obvious why this is the case. This point is extremely important and cannot be neglected at all. The very fact that NUS is trying to transform into a campus that is completely “cashless” excludes those that use CASH as their main form of transaction. These individuals are mostly those who fail to even access such services in the first place. Those that do not have technology (like phones) that are capable of accessing applications related to the cashless initiative, those that keep more in cash than in banks due to various reasons, those that do not own a bank account, or have problems accessing these bank accounts etc. This does not apply just to those who are foreign to Singapore, or the elderly, but to any individual who are NOT able to access such services (no matter who they are, or what age they are).
Yes, I understand that ez-link card can be used to pay for your meal instead. However, the irony is that the state is planning to phase out cash top ups in the machines located at train stations starting next year as they plan to make the system completely cashless by 2020, so which problem does this really solve again? As the state makes it increasingly more difficult to rely on cash options, I don’t see how using your “ez-link card” can successfully address the issue of exclusion.
Additionally, many students will agree that the erratic nature of the WiFi in NUS makes it very difficult to get to even USE the cashless option. Perhaps NUS should, before rolling out a completely cashless system, concentrate their efforts to solve the WiFi problems first? How is anyone meant to rely on the unpredictably bad WiFi to eat a meal or two at the canteens (amongst doing other things)? Besides, it is also noted that the ez-link option at Gong Cha in U Town never really works, anyway. I fear these issues will continue to make it difficult for those who can technically access the cashless option, to actually access the cashless option. So if both groups of people (those that do not have access to these options AND those who actually do) fail to actually access it, how is this going to work out for anyone at all?
Next, in the email, you had mentioned that “We are delighted to inform you that more than 60% of our community have embraced NUS’ cashless transaction initiative”. Who have you surveyed? How did you arrive at this statistic? What does it mean by the term “embraced”? Did you purposefully phrase it this way in an attempt to represent this initiative as something totally positive and well-accepted by majority of the community to gloss over essential issues that need to be addressed? I expect this to be more than just a one-sentence “statistical” overview! Are your results biased in any way (perhaps it has to do with the fact that you had the whole 50 cents off for if you use the cashless option? I mean, it’s quite self-explanatory why this is thus a bias statistic)? Have you interviewed enough individuals to get to this conclusion? Have you conducted focus groups to find out about how exactly individuals in university (staff, students) feel about this before you decided to implement this? This is absolutely unacceptable for a university that prides itself in “good” research.
Moreover, in the email you had also mentioned that “the plan to move towards a cashless campus will be carried out in phases to ensure that there is sufficient adjustment time for everyone”. I understand that NUS first launched the “cashless campus” initiative following the email sent out to everyone on the 22nd of August 2017. Is one year of “adjustment” really enough to transform into a completely cashless campus? I, along with many others (yes, I have asked individuals regarding their opinions to justify my claim), fail to see how this period of adjustment is sufficient to suddenly make this major change. I am alright with the idea of having BOTH cashless, and cash options, and having other initiatives to encourage students to use the cashless option, but to suddenly transform the whole campus within the span of an academic year is simply too drastic. Phases? What phases?
There is nothing gradual about this at all.
Lastly, you had also mentioned in your email regarding how “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.”. How is this a valid and adequate enough reason to transform the campus into a COMPLETELY (not even partially) cashless one? I fail to see how this is a reason worthy of this drastic change. You can literally do the same thing when you have a partially cashless campus, is that not the case? This is a terribly weak argument as to why there is a need to dramatically transform the whole system to a cashless one.
If you are going to send the whole university an email as to the sudden and drastic change, it is necessary to at least try to justify this in a more convincing and adequate manner. You should not and cannot simply send an email of such grave importance (this is literally life-changing, no joke) without putting actual thought and effort into the manner in which it was written. It is ridiculous how there was an utter non-existence of any sort of justification or argument (or essentially anything resembling this) within the email. The nonchalant attitude as expressed by this email is very, very upsetting, really. I take great issue with the lack of justification presented (or more like, not presented) in the mail. Why is it that a completely cashless campus is necessary instead of just a partially cashless one? Is a year really sufficient adjustment time for the campus to change so drastically? What makes this completely cashless campus more appealing and any better than a partially cashless one? I can go on and on about this for a while, but I am assuming you all get my point here.
In conclusion, there is a need for better justification for this change. This is not just for me, but for every individual who exists within the walls of NUS. I am willing to “embrace” this cashless campus initiative, if and only if, the justification for it is fair, valid and convincing. I understand that this is all just blindly following the Government’s plan to roll out a “cashless society” and all, but these implementations, surprisingly, have REAL, ACTUAL consequences. At least it would have been a little more acceptable if you had actually surveyed/interviewed/conducted focus groups with staff and students to ask them about their opinionsBEFORE you implemented this fully just to highlight certain issues or benefits that might emerge from this initiative. If you had, please do let me know what you did, and where the report for this is. For now I fail to see how this is anything short of a half-hearted attempt at glossing over and hiding important issues that NEED to be addressed. Issues like how those that cannot access such a cashless option CAN, the erratic WiFi system, or in general HOW issues in general should be addressed. You need to actually think of these consequences and address them BEFORE you even try to implement it completely, do you not?
I thank you for taking time to read this email, and I hope that this gets taken very seriously, or at least more seriously than the university’s attempt at convincing us that a completely cashless campus is the way forward.
A petition has also been created to counteract the decision turn NUS into a completely cashless campus and ask for further clarifications and justifications for the push toward a “cashless campus”. https://www.change.org/p/national-university-of-singapore-can-we-keep-the-cash