"The welfare and academic performance of student parents is closely tied to the welfare and support of their families and children"Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

While not something that fits with the typical image of a university student, it’s a fact that some students at Cambridge, particularly postgraduates and mature undergraduates, have children. Even though the University has taken a number of initiatives to boost childcare support, the question remains: is this enough?

5.8% of students at the University are also parents with families, facing additional time pressures and financial costs, and so the support and infrastructure for students with families must be a priority of the University.

The welfare and academic performance of student parents is closely tied to the welfare and support of their families and children. If the University seeks to strengthen its wellbeing strategy and look closely at what could improve the experience of various students, it should also use this opportunity to cater to the interests and needs of students with families.

The recently declared £500 million-worth Student Support Initiative has to be used to support the various cross-section of student interests in the University – and childcare support must be prioritized, along with housing, disability support and general hardship finances.

The University has three nurseries: at Edwinstowe Close, at West Cambridge and in Eddington. The Edwinstowe Nursery caters only to the children of staff, while 20 places in the West Cambridge nursery are reserved for students, and 100 at Eddington are for staff and students. As per the 2013 Ofsted report on the West Cambridge Day Nursery, “outstanding leadership and management promotes high staff morale and an enthusiastic pursuit of excellence.” The report indicates “outstanding” early years’ provision, but few places are reserved for the children of students. As students with families constitute such a significant cross-section of the student population, even with the additional spaces in the Eddington nursery, this is not enough.

The monthly fees at these nurseries, for children of all ages, range from £241, £461, £691, £922 and £1047 for one, two, three, four and five days a week respectively, while there is a monthly scheme of five half-days for £628. Given limited student finances, particularly for partially funded or self-funded students, any of these schemes mark a significant investment by a student for availing the facilities in the nurseries. If a University student accepts a student place, even if they and/or their partner are staff members, they also cannot pay these fees through the Workplace Nurseries’ Salary Exchange Scheme, which is for employees of the University who have accepted a staff place.

The highest grant in the University is the Gates Cambridge scholarship with a monthly stipend of £1458 while the DTP studentships, Cambridge Trust scholarships, Commonwealth scholarship and the Chevening scholarship have monthly stipends averaging £1118. Looking at these funding schemes, even students who have secured funding from any of the major postgraduate funding opportunities in the University will face financial strain in using the nurseries for more than a day or two.

Meanwhile, the University’s two childcare funds, the Central Childcare Bursary scheme and the University Childcare Support Fund, providing means-tested grants to overseas and EU students and to home students respectively, are intended for students in exceptional, unforeseen financial difficulty and they offer only limited financial assistance towards confirmed Ofsted-registered childcare costs.


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Looking at these sources of financial support, when it comes to childcare being supported by them, my question remains: is this enough?

One suggestion stressed by the GU Families Officer Karthick Murukesan has been a direct subsidy scheme for students with children in these nurseries, to make financial support for student parents more accessible and direct.

One major area for improvement lies in the domain of making workspaces within the University more childcare friendly. Research students have been known to take their children to their departments and having to make them sit around with some activities to keep them engaged while they work. Are these students supposed to focus on their research or taking care of their kids? We, at the Graduate Union, would advocate for childcare-friendly spaces in the University, as well as for more places for students with children in University and college nurseries.

At the Graduate Union, we have been working on events that promote the interests and needs of students with families, and we look forward to working more on this area.

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