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98% of students SCAN surveyed own a Purple card. That this figure is generally representative is shown by LUSU and University Statistics for 2009/2010, which show that 86.7% of students owned a Purple card. 17% of survey respondents rated the Purple card’s value for money at 10 out of 10, with 55% rating it at seven or above. Overall, 80% of respondents felt that they got a lot of use out of their Purple card. But, despite this seeming popularity, some survey respondents were highly critical of the Purple card, which costs £12.50 per year or £30 for three years.
One third year Furness student said: “If it weren’t for the fact I had to get one to join societies I wouldn’t have got one. They say you need one so they can cover the costs of insurance but surely it wouldn’t be impossible for that to be built into the membership fees I already pay to join a society.”
Although not compulsory for Students’ Union membership, the Purple card is a necessity for joining clubs and societies. LUSU President Robbie Pickles explained that “the reason a Purple card is required for sports and societies is to cover administrative and insurance costs incurred by those activities, which students not involved in those activities do not have to pay for”.
He also feels that the overall advantage of the Purple card is that “even though it does cost £12.50, almost every student will earn that money back through savings made in local shops, bars and clubs”.
52% of survey respondents felt that these discounts were the main benefit of the Purple card, with a further 17% feeling that the ability to take part in student activities was a key advantage.
Discounts include the promotions that LUSU send out weekly, outlining the available campus and local offers such as “every Monday get 50% off food at Bella Italia just by showing your Purple card” or “buy any sandwich and get a 500ml drink for 40p” at the LUSU shop.
However, one survey respondent commented that they “never, ever use the ‘offers’ that come on the Purple card email, as they are so small as to be completely useless. Other universities get these cards for free, though I don’t mind paying the relatively small amount to fund LUSU”.
Other benefits mentioned included LUSU services such as Jobshop, Sugarhouse discounts, student media and the card’s function as student ID.
LUSU Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) Matt Windsor explained that the overall fee for the Purple Card essentially “goes into one massive pot and gets reallocated every year” based on what current students want.
“There is a feeling that, for example, the Purple card was set up to help clubs and societies […] which it does in majority. If you lost the Purple card you wouldn’t stop doing club and society activity, but you’d have to heavily cut back,” said Windsor, who went on to say that although Purple card revenue is aimed at societies and clubs it is not solely restricted to these.
Windsor clarified that membership charges are the societies and sports teams’ own money and that LUSU has “nothing to do with it”.
Whilst one respondent liked the Purple card because it is both an NUS card and “individual to our uni[sic],” another felt that “whereas other universities have their library card for all aspects of [university] life, we seem to have been saddled with another card, which we have to pay for to get the same use”.
Other students at universities including Sheffield and Liverpool automatically receive their student cards free upon registering with their university. One survey respondent studying a joint Medicine degree between Lancaster and Liverpool mentioned that they “get all the same discounts [with Liverpool’s student card] in Lancaster as I do with the Purple card, and like most [universities] in the UK it was free.”
An alternative to the Purple card is the lesser known Red card, which is available for free at the LUSU information desk or for £1 if purchased online. The Red card is simply proof of LUSU membership, which all students automatically gain on becoming a member of the University, and does not act as a discount card.
Pickles believes that “the Purple card is infinitely better than the Red card, shown by the fact that almost all students own a Purple card but very few own a Red card”. Figures from the LUSU annual report show that only 5% of students owned a Red Card in 2009/2010.