More than 20 universities are set to close their nurseries in an attempt to cut costs, according to Unison.
The union is set to launch a campaign to keep campus nurseries open amid fears that government funding cuts will lead to such services being closed across the country.
Unison said that nursery closures would lead to unnecessary redundancies and would cause problems for students with children, countering efforts to widen access. They would also disrupt the working lives of young lecturers who would find it difficult to afford private childcare.
Jon Richards, head of higher education at Unison, said nursery closures were inevitable because the Government had called on universities to preserve teaching and learning during the funding cuts.
"Nurseries are going to be a target. It's a short-sighted policy," he said. "Clearly, there is a potential impact on single parents, or those with limited funds for childcare, and their ability to study. There are people who couldn't have made it to university if they didn't have that service."
Closures would also have an impact on student retention, the union said. If a student becomes pregnant while studying and has no access to affordable childcare, she may have to give up her degree. Cuts would also raise difficult questions about gender equality on campus.
"The whole outlook about improving the lives of students and staff is thoroughly undermined by closures," Mr Richards said.
The nursery at Roehampton University is set to close in 2010 after the expiration of the lease on the building housing the service.
One psychology student said she had applied to Roehampton only because it had a nursery. "I feel let down," she said. "I was thinking about doing a masters, but I won't now."
Jane Broadbent, deputy vice-chancellor at Roehampton, said the university had been unable to find alternative accommodation for the nursery owing to financial constraints. Professor Broadbent added: "We will continue to support students and staff in their childcare needs with a variety of policies, such as part-time and flexitime working and the provision of childcare vouchers."
The University of Westminster is consulting over its nursery provision, with a final decision due in November. Campaigns against closures have already saved nurseries at the University of Exeter and the London School of Economics.
The University of the West of England's nursery closed in June. A student union statement blamed financial pressures for the move.