I've noticed that this idea of a "meal plan" among students is pretty common in the US. Usually this involves:
Some amount of money (e.g. "flex dollars") that can be spent on any food (or sometimes even other things) that the student desires, provided that the student spends this money on certain on-campus locations.
The student may get a fixed number of "meal swipes" for eating at the dining hall.
This is all paid for in-advance by students, often as part of a "room and board" fee.
Some universities even require students to purchase such a plan if the student lives in certain parts of university housing, even at some urban universities where there might be more dining options. (I have heard students claim that it would cost the same amount of money as a meal plan to eat at neighbourhood restaurants.)
I have also seen some version of this in Canadian schools: for instance, there was a complaint circulating about poor dining hall management at Memorial University, which alludes to a required meal plan. Generally speaking, as a student, it seems that such meal plans are chiefly used by undergraduates, although I've also seen graduate students eat at the dining hall.
I suspect that this system is specific to North America, although I'm not completely sure. For instance, I saw this document, which stated that the Hebrew University doesn't carry meal plans. I've noticed that university cafeterias in Hong Kong make students pay for food with actual cash when they get their meal, even if there are occasional loyalty schemes (of the same variety that might appear at any fast-food restaurant) or discounted items (where things are much cheaper than they would be off-campus). From a quick glance, HKU and HKUST's housing websites appear to make no mention of any sort of "meal plan". (Meanwhile, the University of Chicago's housing website has a page for residential dining.)
Thus: is the meal plan system (where students pay in advance for dining hall meals and potentially other on-campus perks) a chiefly North American thing? For obvious reasons, I would assume that it would be more common in heavily non-commuter universities (which perhaps dominate the US and Canada more than the rest of the world), but I'm wondering if this is generally true, even if we take the commuter/non-commuter thing into account.