Posted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 2:25 am Post subject: The meal plan scam
We've been talking about the Chamberlain fiasco, but let's not forget the utter scam that is the meal plan. Even ignoring the food quality issue, it's hugely expensive, unnecessarily limiting and screws students out of their money.
First off, meal plan credit can currently only be used at the Shackleton Hub, i.e. the food hall or Rio's. This forces students to go back to the Vale for all their meals, between certain set times. Most don't - they shell out extra cash for meals on campus, and end up with unspent credit at the end of the week - which tends to go on muffins at Rio's.
UniCash, which is the Pay-As-You-Go-style system where you load money on to your ID card and use it to pay for stuff, can be used pretty much everywhere on campus - Avanti and Cafe Go in University Centre, the Poynting Physics coffee lounge, Mason Lounge etc. as well as Shackleton. It used to be usable at Cafe Connections and the Food Court at the Guild too, as far as I know. This uses the same system as the meal plan credit; there is no technological limitation on the meal plan credit being used on campus, and in fact during the first weeks of it in 2004 credit could be used on campus for a while before they disabled that. There is no reason I can see why credit couldn't be used on campus, giving the students wider choice and flexibility. One excuse I've heard is that they wouldn't be able to ge the stock levels right for all the different catering places if students could choose between them - this is utter rubbish, as the level of customers at each place would stabilise and be estimable after a short trial period.
The second disgraceful part of the meal plan is that unspent credit is lost if it isn't spent by Friday evening. Where does this excess money, paid for as part of students' accommodation fees, go? It is simply claimed as profit by HAS. There is no excuse for this. The money should roll-over to the next week - simple as that.
Thirdly, dissatisfied students are now told that they cannot leave the meal plan during the year, as they have signed up to it under their accommodation contract. It used to be possible but extremely difficult to leave the plan - two of my first year housemates managed in the first year of its operation, in 2004, but only after badgering housing services at Shackleton about it for a couple of months and having their parents write angry letters. Students should be able to leave the plan (after giving a reasonable amount of notice) if they are not happy with it.
When I take prospective students around campus and Shackleton Hall on admissions days and open days and they ask me about catered accommodation, I either have to be very scant with the details or tell them how terrible the situation is. I take them around the Guild and they see that there is nowhere to buy hot food, which gives a bad impression, and most current students probably blame the Guild for that, not knowing that it's largely the Uni's fault.
I've already spoken to staff in my dept about this. I explained the current Guild catering situation and how difficult the Uni are being to the admissions tutor, and told him what I thought of the meal plan. He had no idea about any of this, and thought it was shocking. He immediately said he was going to write to the relevant higher-ups to complain. If we all brought this stuff up with our departments (perhaps via student reps) and got the staff themselves to take the issue further, that might be taken a bit more seriously by the Uni. It's a bit late for this coming GC but I'm also considering a motion mandating the exec to put pressure on the University (a mix of HAS and Catering Services, I'd imagine - Sally would know) to make significant changes to the system.
Posted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 4:28 pm Post subject: Re: The meal plan scam
It's a bit late for this coming GC but I'm also considering a motion mandating the exec to put pressure on the University (a mix of HAS and Catering Services, I'd imagine
haha i wouldnt be quite so sure about that....
Man of the moment Ed Sparkes beat you to it Simon! He has a motion on this issue, actually covering some of the points you mention. When the motion gets put online you should consider ammendments. Currently the motion only covers Hub Grub and Avanti. I think this is an important issue for students, definately something we should spend Guild Council time on.
I did previously consider a motion of some sorts over this when I lived in Chamberlain Hall. The fact is the university have no obligation to their customers over the quality of the food. The situation is compounded by the fact that Hub Grub is a monopoly and those students are unable to take their trade anywhere else. When we originally lobbied the university we found that we had nothing to call them to account over, and obviously nothing to bargain with.
What I intended to propose at the time was for the VPA to, in consultation with students, draw up a 'Food Standards Charter' outlining the basic quality, price, nutritional content and choice which students would expect if they went catered. This would put us in the position to lobby the university to sign up to this charter. It would also allow us to call them to account if we felt that standards had dropped below what students expect.
However, at the time kicking up a fuss had immediate benefits. After we submitted 84 'feedback' cards filled in by students detailing the disatisfaction of the vast majority the university did pull their fingers out over the following weeks. This is an issue where we can make the university hear our case and work for realistic change. We just need to mandate our exec to apply sustanined pressure.
We subbmitted far more than 84, it was well over a hundred in the end. The threat to demonsrate on open days and embarrass the university in front of prospective students was the thing that got them moving the most though. They were begging to negotiate by the end of the day when we posted on this forum.
I remember my getting one of the posters attacking thier food quality inside the actual show flat really pissed them greatly, however the lateness of our hour of intervention was what stopped us from making much differance that time.
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