The Rationale for University Nurseries

Education, Science and Equality: Why Universities need to provide nursery places

As E. Watson articulated in the now famous HeforShe speech at the United Nations (UN, 20 Sept. 2015), Gender inequality is a pressing issue. Such discrimination is notorious in many and different careers, such as acting (the Guardian, 13 Dec. 2014, by Needham) and the sciences (Scientific American, 13 Sep 2012, by Yurkiewicz).  Although much has been achieved in recent years towards equality, the reality remains that proportionally, many more women that obtained higher education qualifications in a science subject do not reach academic posts. Thus, at the top levels, science is still male dominated. This is a process well known as the “leaky pipeline”.

Student
Investigations into the leaky pipeline clearly identify marriage, and the fact that child bearing age and the age at which a scientists are qualified to apply for an academic post overlap substantially, as two factors underlying high drop off rates. Indeed, women with children are 20% less likely to secure a tenure track position, and in addition married women are 20% less likely than single women in attaining such posts (http://ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu/leaks.html). This is perhaps not surprising because research moves fast, it is highly competitive, often requires international relocation and immense numbers of dedicated hours.  On the face of it, these requirements may seem at odds with initiating a family. However, such “family unfriendly” characteristics are not insurmountable: they can be offset with supportive measures, and access to quality childcare provision is one that can make a very large difference (The Scientist, 1st January 2008, by Hoopes).

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For all these reasons, it is difficult to reconcile the recent announcement that Anglia Ruskin University (in Cambridge, UK) is closing down its nursery citing financial reasons, whilst at the same time building a Science Centre, at the reported cost of £45 million (including £5 million in funding from the Government as reported by Business Weekly 6th Jan. 2015, by NewsDesk).

Closing down the nursery, will negatively impact women of child bearing age the hardest, an indirect discrimination policy which no doubt will reflect on the number of potential female applicants for the science centre.  

All this from a university which has adopted the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter to promote women in science. “We became a member of Athena SWAN in 2012, as one of our aims is to advance women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).”  Anglia Ruskin University statement on Equality & Diversity

Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido