The Big Brother Cashcard?

Warning:your university may be planning to introduce a smart card that can be used to trace your movements and spending patterns within your institution!

Mondex, a product of Midland Bank, is a smart card which is currently being used at only a few institutions. However, obviously Midland would not to go to all this expense of developing the product and the nnecessary equipment without planning to introduce it to larger numbers. At present, it has only been introduced at York, Sheffield Hallam, Nottingham and Exeter, with the aim of alleviating large amounnts of cash handling and reducing potential problems with security.

The Mondexcard at York was introduced in October, combined with the library card and computer ID. Students can now buy food, borrow library books, get their laundry done and pay for drinks at the bar. The Studennt Union states in its opinion "there are no perceived benefits". Certainly, it seems fairly pointless for students, when the rest of the world beyond campus continues to use cash!

The intention at York is to abolish cash on campus by next year. This obviously has numerous organisational implications - and implications for being able to trace students' spending patterns: there is undoubtedly a possibilityof misuse of the information stored on the card, although York's Vice-Chancellor has explicitly stated that the information obtained through use of the card will only be used to examine levels of saless for different products on campus, and that this would be no threat to the integrity of students' personal ac-counts.

There has been considerable dis-satisfaction, as the scheme has gone ahead despite opposition, particularly in the light of Midland boycotts. The York experience is that consultation took place betweenn the Director of Finance and the Student Union - but only because there is a Union shop on campus. However, there was no consultation specifically for postgraduates for whom it has greater implicationns and will cause more inconvenience.

Casual visitors, part time students, students who live off-campus and those who are not regularly at their institution will experience some frustration at having to waste precious time loading up the caard, just to buy a packet of crisps. As for those who stay for a weekend, if they have not used up all that they have on their card, the question remains how the surplus would be refunded. The Universsity will soon make a fast buck out of conference guests and casual users!

In York, members of the public come and eat and use other services. The University seems unaware, on the other hand, that it may be losing casual sales and alienating itself further from the surroundinng community, due to the introduction of Mondex, which makes it impossible for them to use university services.

The use of cards, it appears will be compulsory. Ironically, it takes longer to pay for the goods on the card, than with cash! Also, students are distrustful of such technology and there are no receiipts or statements produced. At an event last year the mondex system on campus was completely disabled when one cash till was unplugged.

In the light of these concerns, one would hope that the institutions and Midland would have given it more thought and considered students' opinions. They appear to have learnt little from previous experrience with the loan scheme, which was a tremendous failure due to lack of consultation.