Mar 3, 2012

Singapore - Some NTU grads upset about package deal involving Alumni Club

THE convocation package targeted Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students from the 2011 graduating batch.

Advertised in a shiny brochure, the $108 package allowed students to keep - instead of rent - their graduation gown.

They would also be given a studio portrait of themselves, and an NTU Alumni Club membership with an $800 waiver of entrance fees, among other benefits.

The package was worth $2,000, said the brochure, but was offered to the students at a discount.

The offer was made around the middle of last year.

But it soon drew fire from some who signed up for it, after they were billed about $200 as payment for the Alumni Club's annual subscription fees.

The club normally charges $40 monthly subscription, which allows the graduates to enjoy its facilities, including a swimming pool, a gym, tennis courts and reading rooms.

Feel cheated

Some of the students who signed up for the convocation package told The New Paper that they feel cheated.

"Why should I pay for something that I didn't ask for, and which I thought was free?" said Miss Mok Li Lin, 25, who is self-employed.

Agreeing, PR consultant Kenneth Chew, 26, felt that such a method of recruiting members was "shady".

But the NTU Alumni Club's president, Mr R. Sinnakaruppan, said there was nothing shady about the promotion.

He said: "At the point of recruitment and in our contracts, the graduates have clearly been told that they will have to pay the full subscription of $40 per month when it becomes due as per the contract."

The brochure had stated that subscription fees will be waived for 2011, and that there would be 50 per cent off subscription fees in 2012.

Said Mr Sinnakaruppan: "Our club has been transparent and fair in our recruitment campaigns.

"NTU Alumni Club is a not-for-profit organisation, a club by the graduates, for the graduates.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to come up with 'shady' membership schemes for our very own graduates."

But Mr Chew, who signed up online, said he had assumed that with the entrance fees waived, the club membership was free.

He also claimed that he was not told explicitly about the monthly charges.

Paid the bill

A freelance writer, who wanted to be known only as Mr Kuek, 25, said he was told that club membership was "free for a year" and not just until the end of 2011.

But he paid the bill earlier this year anyway.

"I had not taken my studio shot yet at that time, so I was worried that if I didn't pay, I would have to forfeit that," he said.

Mr Chew tried to find a way around paying the bill by writing to the club to terminate his membership.

But the club's response shocked him.

He was told that if he terminated his membership within 24 months of signing up for it, he was to pay a penalty fee of $800.

This was part of the candidate's declaration when signing up online for the package.

But Mr Chew felt it was "hidden" in the fine print.

"The way (the club) has gone about doing this is just downright disappointing," he said.

But he acknowledged that the "onus and responsibility for anything one signs lies with the consumer".

"I could have been more careful," he said.

Quick checks online showed that there have been heated comments in forums on this topic since July last year.

Mr Chew has resigned himself to paying the fees for this year and will terminate his membership only in 2013.

He said he will "read through all terms and conditions" carefully in future.

His sentiments were echoed by Miss Mok, who has also paid her bill from the club.

She said: "I don't have a choice. It's a lesson learnt. If I don't pay, then I'll have to pay $800 for breaching the agreement.

"Still, if the club wants us to be members, they should be forthright about the payments needed."

But not everyone was surprised and there were those who felt that the monthly payments were clearly indicated.

One of them, marketing manager C. Lim, 27, said: "I recall the brochure indicated that monthly payments would need to be paid."

She bought the package and is a happy user of the club's facilities, especially the swimming pool.

For current graduates, the club's charges are slightly different from those for the Class of 2011.

Fresh graduates will be paying their monthly subscription of $15 for the initial five months, $30 for the next six months and $40 for subsequent months.

Bryna Sim | The New Paper

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