Unions unite in childcare campaign

February 2, 1996

Thes reporters look at the increased pressure for improved childcare in universities.

Three unions have teamed up to launch a campaign for more workplace nurseries in universities and colleges. The Childcare on Campus campaign is a joint effort between the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe and the National Union of Students. It includes booklets containing practical campaign models which both staff and students can use to help identify and meet childcare needs.

The voluntary organisation Working for Childcare estimates that only 28 per cent of higher education institutions had nurseries in 1995. Scarlett Dewar, its spokeswoman said: "Workplace nurseries often have very limited places - particularly for staff."

Miss Dewar said there was evidence that those institutions which supported nurseries enjoyed greater levels of popularity in terms of both staff and student recruitment. "We realise that it is very difficult for universities and colleges to devote more funds to this but there is a major recruitment benefit and stress levels are reduced which in turn affects productivity," she said.

Tom Wilson, who is coordinating the campaign for the AUT, said: "We think that universities and colleges ought to lead the way. But while there is no lack of will, there is a lack of money." The campaign booklet points out that funding councils have recently relaxed the rules governing cash for capital schemes such as nurseries and that small grants may be available.

It also suggests the capital cost of building a nursery could be offset if institutions were willing to become involved in partnerships with other organisations such as health trusts, local authorities and employers. Nurseries would seem tailormade for the private finance initiative.

However, campaigners stress that places must be affordable and that there should be sufficient to meet demand. The campaign is also keen to extend the opening hours of existing nurseries, so that they cover holidays when many staff and research students continue to work.

* Further support for the campaign has come from a report for the Commission on University Career Opportunities published last week. Childcare in Universities and Colleges is produced by John Leopold, a senior lecturer in human resource management at Stirling University, and Lynn Abbassi from Middlesex University.

Mr Leopold, a parent, said: "There are growing numbers of women returners to education and mature students. The report recognises that more needs to be done - though some universities are at the forefront of improvements."

The CUCO report backs the main thrust of the Childcare on Campus campaign by providing a guide on how institutions should go about improving childcare.

Copies of the Childcare on Campus campaign document are available from Working for Childcare, 77 Holloway Road, London N7 8JZ.

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