Kenneth Chew was one of the many students who signed up for the NTU Alumni Club's (NTUAC) convocation package before graduation last year.
The 25-year-old thought that paying $198 for his graduation gown, a plaque and a solo studio shoot was a bargain. The package also offered free membership in the NTUAC, which allows members to use its facilities and enjoy other perks.
It came as a complete shock when another bill from NTUAC arrived this year, charging him S240 for a year's worth of membership fees.
It was then he realised that there was a clause in the agreement he signed, which stated that anyone signing up for the NTUAC convocation package has to pay two years' worth of membership fees.
"Initially I blamed myself, and felt that I should have been more careful when I signed the agreement online," said the public relations practitioner.
His regret turned to "utter shock and disgust" after he realised that he was not the only student to fall prey to NTUAC's "shady and deceptive recruitment tactics".
Many others who had signed up for NTUAC's convocation package were also unaware of the membership clause, which was hidden deep in the terms and conditions fine print.
The clause stated that two years' membership in the NTUAC is mandatory for those who bought the package. According to the agreement, membership fees for the first year were waived, but they would have to pay for the second year's fees at $20 a month, a 50 per cent discount from the usual rate.
Those who wished to terminate their membership before the end of two years would be subjected to a hefty penalty fee of $800.
Therefore, unsuspecting students who bought the package in March or April for their convocation would have forgotten about it by the time the bill comes nine months later. Most would pay up dutifully, assuming that it was their fault for not reading through the terms and conditions properly.
"The onus and responsibility for anything one signs lies with the consumer, and from a legal perspective NTUAC has done no wrong. However, the shady way the membership is mandated on the unwitting graduates is just downright appalling," said Chew.
According to Chew, NTUAC had admitted that it had received many complaints over the years, but has "consciously not done anything to make the process more transparent".
Said another NTU graduate, who declined to be named: "When I first found out I was pretty angry. In my opinion NTUAC should have stated explicitly that we would have pay for the membership. It's not fair to hide things in fine print."
Like others caught in the same situation, she found no use for the facilities or perks that the NTUAC offered.
"I was caught, it's so unjust. I'm paying for something I don't need. I stay far away [from the NTUAC clubhouse] and I never even use the facilities," said the 23-year-old tutor, who signed up for the package during an NTU road show.
Similarly, Rachel, another graduate who signed up for the package, said: "It was an oversight on my part, but I think they should have at least mentioned it at the booth when I was signing up, since it wasn't very busy at that time. They should have been more transparent and put it straight up front in the application form."
The 24-year-old writer expressed her intention to pay up, but said that she would terminate her membership after two years. "It's my fault for not reading the fine print, so I'm writing it off as a bad debt," she said.
Others who faced the same issue created a thread to vent their frustrations online. According to comments posted on the forum, the issue has been ongoing for at least three years.
The NTUAC is not run by NTU. It is independently registered with the Registry of Societies and is a paying membership club.
At press time, NTUAC has not responded to Yahoo! Singapore's enquiries on the case mentioned.