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University cost cuts hit families as campus nursery faces funding collapse

The nursery and pre-school face possible closure due to cuts. Photo: Polina Belehhova

Students and staff whose children use the University of Sussex Pre-School and Nursery have been informed that the facility will close if it is unable to secure funding from an external provider.

The letter sent to parents on 8 February stated that childcare provider Bright Horizons has withdrawn its proposed takeover following “a combination of factors, rather than any one single factor, which meant that [providing funding] was ultimately not an option for their business.”

Bright Horizons had been negotiating with the university since November 2010.

The university’s nursery has been open since 1966, benefiting children of all backgrounds, aged between 33 months and five years. The University of Sussex’s website advertises that “the nursery’s aim is to develop children’s self confidence, self-expression, sharing and caring and to give them social experience with other children and adults in preparation for their introduction to the formal education system, as well as sufficient visual, auditory and finer co-ordination skills to begin reading and writing.”

The university’s overall goal is to secure funding from a new external provider, following the decision by Council, the university’s governing body, in July 2009 that all trading services on campus should operate without subsidy.

If a funding agreement can be reached, the university will negotiate the transfer with the relevant trade unions, and this will guarantee the maintenance of the childcare facility, as had been envisaged with support from Bright Horizons.

In a statement issued to parents using the services, and online to the wider campus community, Charles Dudley, the Director of Residential, Sport and Trading Services, said “we recognise that parents with children at the facilities wish to be able to plan their childcare arrangements for 2011-12.

“So we will ensure that, by 1 April, we provide parents and childcare staff with a clear statement of the position we have reached.”

However, if an agreement cannot be reached by 1 April 2011, the nursery service will be forced to propose that the university-run facility, as it is currently operating, close its doors.

By this date, the nursery hopes to have secured funding from an external provider, and be able to contact parents using the facility with good news regarding its future.

Mr. Dudley stated that the University of Sussex would now “take forward discussions with alternative providers with serious intent”.

He added: “The detailed discussions and preparations which have been undertaken to date will enable us to engage with other potential providers on a sound and well-prepared basis, and in a timely way.”

Welfare Officer for the Students’ Union Jo Goodman commented: “The pre-school and nursery are vital facilities at Sussex, without which many students and staff simply wouldn’t be here.

“The Students’ Union is committed to doing everything we can to secure the future of childcare on campus and will be pushing for the university to hold open meetings with students and staff who make use of the services to discuss the harsh realities of what their removal would mean.

“We urge the university to extend the current arrangements for a further year to allow for a more realistic time frame to find an alternative private provider and secure the future of childcare on campus.”

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