Workplace nursery provision: that’s a good thing right?

3 min read

This post follows my previous on a proposed new nursery at the University of Cambridge. Following a campaign by staff in the Faculty of Education, the university balloted eligible staff (mainly academics and senior administrators) on the proposal. The Grace (Cambridge’s term for a proposal) was passed by 777 votes to 151. This means that the university will progress to looking for a provider to run the new nursery.

The campaign against the proposal began with very local concerns about the impact on the Faculty of Education and the staff. Those interests are set against what might be argued to be the greater good. The greater good being much-needed childcare provision in the university. As we started to look into the university’s proposal, we found that there were issues that should be of general concern:

  • Equality and diversity – the cost of nursery provision (as it is in most private nursery provision) is £1000 per child per month. Even with government subsidy and salary sacrifice, lower paid workers in the university cannot afford this or any childcare. Given the ethnic representation in the lower paid group, this provision contributes to increased inequality within the university workforce.
  • Marketisation and privatisation – nursery provision has shifted from being a public provision (often run by local councils) to being privatised provision. This results in a fragmented system that is underpinned by investor returns and what appears to be lower quality provision. Marketisation also contributes to inequality since competition results in winners and losers.

So in answer to my question: nursery provision is a good thing right? The answer here is ‘no’ – it contributes to inequality and threatens diversity in the university. It contributes to further marketisation and privatisation of nursery provision, where we should be demanding universal free childcare.

My main point is that institutions like the University of Cambridge have the power to use their institutional voice to challenge government policy on nursery and childcare provision in England. Staff can use their collective voice to demand the university do this.

The proposed nursery is a highly political issue and we should be critically informed and act appropriately.

The frustration (and anger) in my previous post was impossible to hide, especially toward what I considered to be, the self-interested behaviour of the better-paid staff in the university who supported this proposal. My anger has now subsided (a little), I am now more motivated to encourage colleagues and the university to think about the political and economic aspects of the university’s current policy toward workplace provision. It needs to be seen for what it is – a piece of austerity in our own backyard and a contribution to the continued break up of universal free public childcare and nursery provision.

These things are part of the deepening of inequality in society, the fracturing of communities and, yes, they contribute to the dissatisfaction that is fueling growing far-right sentiment. We, as staff in the university, need to be critical and take responsibility. We must act beyond our immediate self-interests. We must force the  – our – university to start making a stand.

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