Approximately 40,000 students registered with the University, across different Schools and locations. Over 14,000 staff are employed by the University, one of the largest employers in the city.
Thousands of staff and students are parents or family members with childcare responsibilities.
Currently the University advertises the excellent Arcadia nursery facility at Kings Buildings and then provides the link to the Edinburgh City Council lists of private and public nursery and early years provision.
That, quite simply, is not good enough.
This week Audit Scotland published a report which focuses on the welcome policy from Scottish Government to significantly expand early learning and childcare provision as an entitlement for 3-4 year olds, and some 2 year olds, of 600 state funded hours a year .
Leaving aside the problem that virtually no state funded childcare exists for babies up to 3 year olds (just when you might need it, to ensure that you hold onto your student course place, or your job) – the Audit Scotland report confirms that local authorities are not on track to have enough spaces or staff in place to meet the targets.
There are already waiting lists in a number of Edinburgh nurseries, and the average cost of using private nurseries in Edinburgh is averaging over £38 a day. The Arcadia Nursery at Kings Buildings costs £52.30 a day.
Whilst childcare voucher schemes and discretionary funds can be made available to help with the costs, full costs are seldom covered, and the costs become a big factor in deciding how to manage work or study.
This is not a unique Edinburgh challenge – none of the universities in Scotland score well on this – and it must be addressed, as one of the key concerns when discussing widening access.
As Rector I would make a priority of changing the current approach.
Given that COSLA (Scottish local authorities) has already indicated that additional public funds are needed to deliver even the Scottish Government minimum, and the Scottish Government disagrees on funds needed, we can expect continuing pressure on available childcare places in Edinburgh.
Getting help with your childcare costs won’t help if there are no suitable spaces available.
Let’s sit down together, with the City Council, providers, Government, and students and staff – work out what is needed and how the University can make a significant difference.
It will be better for everyone.
How can new build projects, such as the Futures Institute, incorporate nursery and childcare provision? It should be affordable and also open to the wider community, making a practical contribution to the City’s resources.
Can the University cost the provide free creche provision, for sessions of up to 4 hours, on all our campuses and to support Library study?
This would allow students to attend for tutorials or lectures without committing to spending over £50 daily on a full -time nursey place.
The EUSA website advice for parents includes this:
‘Some students choose to use the free creche service provided by the Scottish Parliament which allows you to leave your child with their registered staff for up to four hours for free provided you remain in the building – students then study in the Scottish Parliament cafe which has free wifi.’
As someone who fought hard to maintain this creche provision for the public and staff, in the Parliament building, when senior staff wanted to turn it into a storage area, I’m very glad it is well used – but it is ridiculous that a public institution such as the University of Edinburgh does provide free creche support for its own diverse student body!
As Rector, I do believe we can work together on this, to really make a difference.