College without cash? That'll do nicely

There's nothing remarkable about students walking around penniless. But armed with an electronic purse, they may not need money any more. Steve Lodge reports

The idea of students without cash is hardly a new one. But cashless society pilots starting this term at Exeter and York universities are all about smart cards and "electronic purses". They encompass a vision of the future in which payments are electronic, and hard cash - as well as change - is unnecessary; the scenario has little to do with the grittier image of genuine student poverty.

Around 11,000 students at Exeter and the 1,600 freshers going to York are being given student identity cards that can also be "loaded" with cash for spending on campus. Cash itself is not being abolished, but the cards will provide an alternative way of paying for various goods and services, as well as serving as security cards - even a way of registering votes in student elections.

When you make a purchase the card is run through a special point-of-sale machine, which automatically reduces the balance on your card - hence the term electronic purse. In effect, the cards work like debit cards except that rather than the balance of your bank account being reduced by each purchase, cash needs to be loaded on to them from a bank cash machine or via special electronic loading machines that have been installed on campus.

The pilots are part of the Mondex payment system, which is also being tested in Swindonwhere there are 12,500 cardholders and around 700 participating retail outlets. A rival cash alternative run by Visa was tried out at the Olympic Games in Atlanta this summer.

At Exeter, students will be able to use their card for cashless purchases in restaurants, bars, shops, vending machines, photocopiers, launderettes and payphones. In addition, it will serve as an identity card, a library card, a security card for getting into buildings, as well as offering discounts on a number of on- and off-campus goods and services, regardless of whether they are signed up to the Mondex system. The York card, which is only being made available to freshers initially, will have a more limited range of functions.

There are no upper and lower limits to the size of Mondex purchases. Students can check their card balance using specially provided key fobs. Money on cards does not earn interest - although even special student banking accounts pay very little interest on credit balances.

A spokesman for NatWest Bank, which is behind the pilot at Exeter, said the cards could prove useful for budgeting. A student could load say, pounds 50, on their card at the beginning of each week and then discipline themself not to go and re-load until the next week. The cards are also seen as a convenience because of their combination of functions. But this could also prove a drawback to students, creating all the more disruption if the card is lost or stolen.

The money put on the cards can only be spent by someone who has its "pin" number. This should provide some security against unauthorised deductions. But lose the card and - as with cash - you lose your money, because the cash has already been transferred on to the card and cannot be replaced.

The pilots will be watched with interest. University campuses are regarded as "perfect communities" to test cashless payment systems because they are self-contained - there is a fixed population whose lives revolve around the campus. The Swindon pilot, by comparison, which has been going a year, has been reported as disappointing. Mondex, however, maintains that more consumers and retailers than expected have signed up to the system and that 85 per cent have been pleased with it.

q Meanwhile, students are being warned that Newcastle is the riskiest university town for having plastic cards stolen, according to Card Protection Plan, a card security service. CPP estimates that more than 5,000 plastic cards will go missing from students across the UK in the autumn term. After Newcastle, the league table for card thefts from students is Durham, Loughborough, Birmingham, and Oxford. The most likely places students will have cards stolen are from bars and pubs, followed by homes, restaurants, night clubs and the streets.

CPP warns students to make sure they have a separate record of their card numbers because, if cards get stolen, quoting the numbers makes it easier for the issuer's loss-reporting service to cancel them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power