By Aminetou DaCosta Dah
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.
The University of Cape Town is launching a pilot project that uses electronic meal vouchers for the Residences Catering Unit, according to the Student Representative Council.
As of 2019, UCT wants to implement an electronic meal voucher system in the various residences. This means that students will have to download their vouchers off an electronic device and redeem them on the pilot operating systems.
On the surface this project seems to have many benefits, such as an environmental advantage from lack of paper vouchers, preventing loss or theft of vouchers and creating a more efficient distribution system. But there are immediate and long-term disadvantages and hidden costs that the project will bring about. Problems include the vouchers’ 24 hour expiration date, the requirement for students to possess an electronic device and the possibility of Food and Connect being the only location of redemption, SRC President Asanda Lobelo told VARSITY. This can impose hidden financial costs on students.
Another issue some students are experiencing with on-campus food at UCT is the price of food at Food and Connect, which was launched in July 2018. While some students initially saw Food and Connect as a new, trendy spot, it soon became known as the “UCT Woolies” for its expensive prices in relation to other food vendors. Most students found the prices reasonable in relation to the quality of food provided, but many students objected to a drastic increase in food prices in 2019 that was not covered by the value of the meal vouchers.
“The only hot meal we can get is chips with our meal voucher” said a Health Science student who spoke with Varsity, expressing frustration that Food and Connect is one of their only food options on campus. The student said she wanted Food and Connect to reduce their prices or for UCT to increase the voucher value to address this issue.
“Who is that food meant for if the people who get meal vouchers for school and pay school fees can’t afford to eat it,” Lobelo said, criticizing UCT’s objectives.
The 24 hour expiration date is theft on the part of UCT, as students have paid for their meals and should be able to eat at whatever time they want, be it today or in two weeks’ time, Lobelo said. UCT’s paper vouchers, on the other hand, last a month.
SRC has spoken to the resident council in an effort to extend the expiry time and plans to prevent the launching of the pilot system until UCT agrees to a fair change in making Food Connect a more affordable option.