Is cash still king on campus?

Steve Simmons from the University of Birmingham explains how cashless payments are adding up on campus

The team here at Birmingham has been exploring the market place for alternate payment types in the hope of supporting students during their time at the University of Birmingham, and to improve and modernise existing payment processes.

Around 30 catering outlets across the University of Birmingham campus now accept payment via the mobile phone solution provided by PayPal.

Paypal is a strong brand with the ability to develop applications at speed and looking to add extra value with solutions specific to ordering goods ahead. The app was launched around six months ago and is already appearing to be widely used by staff and students.

Cashless meal plan

A large number of students across the UK are paying in advance for a catering package which is included in their residences fee. At Birmingham, the meal plan offers a set amount of spend each week, which can be used across campus catering outlets and at the Vale student village.

There are over 1,000 students currently on meal plan, with numbers set to rise with the completion of Chamberlain Hall, which will accommodate 750 students, with the large majority likely to adopt the cashless meal plan.

The meal plan offers ease of use and certainty of spend, both for the University and the students, not to mention the parents. Although accepting money upfront could be seen as improving liquidity for the University, it is more about offering a more efficient business model. The more efficient we can become, the better the service and the wider the range of products we are able to offer.

Next steps…

The team at the University of Birmingham acknowledge that picking the right solution has been quite a challenge, but that the next steps are very exciting. Plans are in place to introduce a ‘personal wallet’ which will run along similar lines to the meal plan, which both staff and students can adopt. Users will be able to top up online and use their card across campus to pay for goods.

Over the coming months, the University will face the challenge of whether to concentrate on cashless payment methods, or to retain cash payment options too.

Most customers at the University will continue to be ‘regulars’ who will be familiar with the chosen cashless methods – and of course could still purchase using debit or credit cards.

The future of cash may well become uncertain and the current market place is very competitive. I’m unsure which style of solution will lead the way in the future. It may be like the Burger chain competition in the 1970/80s where one party and style comes to dominate or it may be more harmonious like the cola wars, with enough of a market for many alternatives to reside in the same space.

What I am clear on is that the customer will ultimately decide and our role is to be prepared and agile to change to those customer trends.

Steve Simmons is Hospitality and Accommodation Services Accountant at the University of Birmingham.



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