Daycare for all - are you kidding?

January 2, 2004

Good and affordable childcare is vital to students who are parents the world over. How seriously the issue is taken depends greatly on social and cultural values. Some countries are stepping up efforts at governmental level, but elsewhere responsibility lies with universities, staff associations and individuals

Austria: kinder, buros and swaps

One in ten Austrian students is a parent, writes Clare Chapman. Many women study into their 30s and feel pressured to have children. Education minister Elisabeth Gehrer said: "About 20,000 students have children. It is enough for them to combine their studies and their children, without having the daily struggle of coordinating work and study times with childcare availability."

Kinder buros (child offices) have been set up with the support of the European Union. Christina Pinkernell, a spokeswoman for the office in Vienna, said: "The kinder buro was created as a point for student parents to come for advice. Since we started operating, we have organised more practical ways to help, such as a flexible childcare service."

The service offers parents a safe place to leave their children for an hour or two, while they attend lectures or go to the library.

A second government scheme, UniKid, allows parents to "swap" children for the day. Conducted online, parents exchange timetables and arrange to take care of the children while the other studies.

Most of Austria's 19 main universities have their own kindergarten, where childcare costs an average €186 (£130) a month.

France: little official support

Good and affordable childcare is vital to students who are parents the world over. How seriously the issue is taken depends greatly on social and cultural values. Some countries are stepping up efforts at governmental level, but elsewhere responsibility lies with universities, staff associations and individuals

Only a minority of French universities provide campus childcare facilities, writes Jane Marshall.

The creche at the University of Caen has places for 60 infants aged between ten weeks and three years. They are cared for by qualified staff from 7.45am until 6.45pm.

University employees may leave their children at the creche five days a week, but students are limited to two-and-a-half days. But deputy director Marie-Odile Atchrimi said students were unlikely to be refused childcare if they requested extra time in exceptional circumstances.

Fees are charged according to income, so students pay very little.

Universities such as Dijon-Bourgogne and some of the Paris universities also offer campus childcare. Like Caen, they might be non-profit associations set up by parents, or like Paris-9 Dauphine, part of the university itself.

Creches are financed by parents, the social security system and the university, sometimes with subsidies from departmental or municipal authorities, or bodies such as the National Centre for Scientific Research, which use the facilities.

At universities that do not have creches, staff and students turn to France's wide range of subsidised public childcare services, including local authority creches, parents' groups or registered childminders; nurseries that take infants from age two; childminders in the home; and playgroups where parents can drop off their children for a few hours.

French children start their formal education young - a third of two-and-a-half-year-olds, and all three-year-olds, attend nursery school.

The quality of services is high, and demand outstrips supply. Student parents must often juggle time with their partners to fit in studies, part-time employment and babysitting.

A survey from the Observatory of Student Life in 2000 found that 6 per cent of students had at least one child. Five per cent of student parents were found to be aged under 25.

Russia: nursery and babushkas

Russia has no national system of institutional campus childcare, writes Nick Holdsworth. With a tight state budget and chronic financial challenges to maintain both fabric and content, universities do not have the money or, at times, the inclination to address an issue that is low on the agenda.

But a traditionally warm attitude towards childcare ensures alternative means that allow mothers to pursue teaching careers.

Lecturers and professors in university cities may rely on state nurseries and kindergartens run by district authorities or schools where full-time care, teaching and three meals a day are provided for about R20 (£40) a month in regional cities outside Moscow.

Where such provision does not exist, parents can take their children to private nurseries, childminders or leave them with babushka (the grandmother).

Institutions with large numbers of female staff, for example teaching colleges, often run subsidised kindergartens, but campus facilities cannot be taken for granted.

Pavel Romanov, a sociologist at Saratov Technical University, said: "The lack of campus childcare boils down to a question of budgets: universities simply do not have the funds to provide childcare facilities."

Teodor Shanin, rector of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, said few students had young children, but those who did relied on mothers or grandmothers for childcare.

Netherlands: campus crèche

The growth of childcare in the Netherlands has been slower than in other European countries, writes Maggie Ayre.

But most universities and university hospitals have some provision for students and staff, with many having their own on-campus creches. Demand exceeds capacity almost everywhere, and parents are faced with long waiting lists. A strong drive towards internationalisation means visiting staff from abroad have priority when places are allocated.

Those lucky enough to get a place are enthusiastic about the benefits.

Former student Maike Dekker remembers the delight of popping downstairs between lectures to visit her son, Michael, in the creche at the University of Amsterdam.

Childcare is partly funded by national and regional governments and partly by universities. Parents receive a subsidy linked to their monthly income.

The drawback is that the money can generally be used only at universities'

own daycare centres, and if no places are available parents have to look elsewhere.

"Some universities also hire places for their staff in regular daycare facilities," said Liesbeth Schreuder of the Dutch Youth Welfare Foundation.

"The nice thing is that children can be cared for near their homes."

Until 2003, there were fewer than 50 subsidised places at the University of Leiden. Parents who could not get a place had to find and pay for alternative daycare for their children. At one point, several faculties of the Technical University of Delft had to fund additional childcare in private creches because of a severe shortage of places on campus.

But from January 1 2004 a new law gives students and teaching staff an allowance directly from government or, in the case of students, their local authority, for use at a day nursery of their choice.

Universities too are taking advantage of this free-market policy, to improve and expand their creches and, in some cases, buy in extra places at private centres. The Erasmus University of Rotterdam plans to increase the number of children it can accommodate from 107 to 300.

Spain: DIY childcare

Only a few universities in Spain provide childcare for employees. The shortage of places in the public sector means many parents resort to private nurseries or make their own arrangements, writes Rebecca Warden.

Luis Quijada, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the father of two girls, said: "Provision for the under-threes does exist, but in big cities the state nurseries tend to be full, so most people have to use private nurseries." He pays €230 a month (£160) for a private nursery place for his two-year-old daughter, The university was a pioneer when it set up the Barbel Inhelder Infant School on campus in 1973 - it pays half the costs, with the remainder split between the regional government and parents.

Since then, several other universities, including the Basque Country, Valladolid, M laga, Santiago de Compostela and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and the Higher Research Council in Madrid, have followed suit.

"But this is far from the norm," said Margarita Valiente, head of the Barbel Inhelder. "Universities are reluctant to take on this issue - it is outside their experience and we cost a lot of money."

The Barbel Inhelder had 57 applications for 16 first-year places last September.

Canada: subsidy the norm

Canadian universities typically subsidise or provide rent-free childcare centres on campus, writes Philip Fine.

Montreal University rents out its year-old centre for C$5,000 (£2,120) a month, well below market cost, with several services picked up by the university. McGill University opened a provincially funded facility last autumn, its daycare founded on a collective agreement with faculty.

The University of Toronto offers referral and advocacy through a family care office. Some of the country's best daycare centres have been strengthened by having university-paid directors, such as Sheila Davidson at Simon Fraser University and Darcelle Cottons at the University of British Columbia.

But tuition fees have been rising above inflation for the past 13 years. In the past year, undergraduate students paid an average of C$3,733, while graduate students paid C$4,948.

"Students rarely have enough money to pay for quality child care," said Maryann Bird, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada.

In 1998, the average monthly cost for daycare in Canada was C$488. Private money, which now makes up a higher proportion of Canadian university funding, has not made a significant difference to the number of spaces available.

"Daycare does not rank high on the donors' lists," said Larry Depoe, executive director of McGill's Childcare Centre, who is having to turn away increasing numbers of parents.

Venezuela: only staff benefit

Good and affordable childcare is vital to students who are parents the world over. How seriously the issue is taken depends greatly on social and cultural values. Some countries are stepping up efforts at governmental level, but elsewhere responsibility lies with universities, staff associations and individuals

Childcare facilities at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, the largest of the country's state-funded universities, have been available since 1961, writes Elizabeth Mistry.

But the scheme is not open to its 35,000 students. Only the children of staff -from administrators to cleaners - are eligible for places at the university nursery, primary and secondary schools. Teaching staff have similarly impressive benefits.

The campus nursery takes children aged between six months and three years, and opens at 7.15am. When children are three years old, they join a pre-school programme that runs from 7.15am to 5.30pm. All children have breakfast, lunch and tea on-site, the cost of which is included in fees.

Parents pay 5 per cent of their wages towards costs, with the rest subsidised by the university.

For university students seeking childcare, however, the options are limited. With private childcare beyond the reach of almost all, most fall back on their families.

The experience of Adriana Dehoa, who has just completed her degree, is typical. For the past three years, her mother has looked after her three-year-old daughter, Mariana, while she attends classes.

"It would have been impossible to study if my family had not helped me. I just hope I can find a job and start supporting us both, but the employment situation is so bad that I don't know what the future will hold."

 

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