The University of Sussex crèche and nursery have been threatened with closure under the University’s latest budget strategy. At present, childcare provision is subsidised by the University, however, radical plans to cut back on spending have deemed the future of the crèche and nursery uncertain.

Parents who utilise childcare services on campus recently received a message from Charles Dudley, Director of Residential, Sport and Trading Services, outlining the proposals.

Dudley wrote that the University will seek to implement one or more of the following options: “To consult with parents on further price rises and other changes to cover the full economic cost; or to identify an acceptable external provider for contracting out childcare facilities by March 2010.”

“If these measures cannot achieve an acceptable financial outcome, the University will propose to close childcare facilities”, he added.

Dudley reiterated the dire financial position of the University in his message, “the current deficit is £3m a year, which is set to grow unless action is taken.”

The University’s strategic response to this, as discussed in Senate and agreed by the Council in the summer, is to make targeted cost reductions in areas where there is the most significant deficit.

“University operated childcare facilities receive a direct financial subsidy of around £150k a year and, in addition, do not pay their full costs, resulting in a total subsidy of at least £350k a year. Council has decided that such activities, which benefit staff and students directly, must pay their real costs”, Dudley wrote.

Student and staff parents have expressed outrage at the proposals. They have argued that decent childcare facilities on campus are a major enabler of students with children to pursue their degrees. Moreover, the crèche permits female tutors to return to work from maternity leave relatively early, thereby saving the University from having to source staff replacements.

A Facebook group, “Save Sussex University Crèche and Nursery”, quickly emerged following the announcement. The group urges that the provision of childcare on campus is, “a major consideration for prospective or current parents when choosing to accept a job or place at a university.” The group also insists that the proposal to close the crèche and nursery at Sussex undermines the University’s stated commitments to gender and equality.

A member of faculty, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Maintaining a crèche on campus is an essential part of any equality strategy. The proposed closure of the crèche demonstrates an incredible lack of imagination and social awareness on the part of management. It is a regressive move in terms of gender equality.”

Kathleen Stock, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Sussex, has two young children who currently attend the University crèche. “Had it not been there, I would not have been able to return to work so soon after giving birth, each time”, she said.

“Without the crèche in its present form, students who are parents will find it much more difficult to pursue their studies, and young female academics will find it harder to return to work quickly. In a University which already has many more male academics than females, this is not a step forward. The solutions proposed so far by management would each be a terrible loss to the University.”

Carlos Aggio, a former Sussex student from Argentina, wrote on the wall of the Facebook group: “My daughter went through the crèche and the nursery at Sussex and it was a wonderful experience for her. The staff were extremely supportive. I am convinced that I would not have been able to finish my studies without this support, which is particularly important for international students.”

Another former Sussex student, Jules Middleton, wrote: “I can’t believe they are even considering this. Being able to return to university after having my daughter literally changed my life.”

The campaign to save the crèche and nursery has its own website:  www.savechildcareatsussex.org which features information on the proposals as well as important links for campaigners.

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