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In recent years it has become clear that having affordable childcare is crucial to UCL students. Around 10% of the total student population at UCL have some form of caring responsibility, and as of February 2020 almost 2500 students were caring for children under the age of 18, with this figure potentially a conservative one due to students having the option of not disclosing this information. Over two-thirds of these students who declared caring responsibilities for children are female, and approximately 90% are on Postgraduate Taught or Postgraduate Research programmes.

Despite these figures, around 90% of the capacity of the current UCL Nursery is occupied by children of UCL staff, and the nursery is highly oversubscribed, leaving new students with a grim chance of getting a place in recent years. This leaves students with caring responsibilities with practically no real support in terms of childcare by UCL, not to mention the excruciating cost of early years’ childcare in the UK as a whole. A vast majority of student parents feel overwhelmed by the lack of this basic facility at a global, inclusive university like UCL, which is essential for their academic functioning. This also shows the need for a clear policy across UCL regarding student parents and carers, including child-friendly spaces on campus.

To begin to address this issue, in November 2019 Students’ Union UCL hired Smartpractice, a consultancy with previous experience working on reviews of the childcare services offered in other universities (such as Sheffield and Oxford), to conduct a scoping exercise of the facilities currently available at UCL. Over the course of 3 months, they interviewed staff members and officers at UCL and the Students’ Union, ran focus groups with student parents, and conducted an online survey which received almost 300 responses, well over 10% of the total number of students with caring responsibilities for those under 18.

In their report, they found that there was a lack of childcare provision and support for students with childcare responsibilities at UCL, and that there was a significant demand for additional childcare and child-friendly facilities. They recommended additional services that could be provided, including more spaces at the current UCL nursery, an additional flexible Crèche facility for 0-5 year olds, a Holiday Club for 4-11 year olds, and a ‘Stay Play and Work’ facility for students to study and care for their children in one place. The report also recommended more dedicated information for student parents and carers at UCL, including introducing a child-friendly policy with more clarity on the rules affecting student parents and carers.

Since the finalisation of the report, the Union has have begun to work with UCL to implement the recommendations of this report and create an environment that is more welcoming to our students with caring responsibilities. This includes working with Library Services and faculties on clear policies about the presence of children on campus, discussing an expansion of the Nursery and other childcare provisions, and ensuring that the Childcare Report is factored into estates decisions across UCL.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in stringent restrictions being placed on the UCL estate, and has slowed progress on trying to put into action the recommendations of the report. However, we are still working on this — starting with working with Library Services to develop a pilot child friendly study space facility which hopefully will be in use in early 2021 and encouraging the Doctoral School to share direct recommendations to supervisors to be more sympathetic to their research students, particularly those with caring responsibilities, over the winter break and beyond. That is only the start of all our efforts to make the UCL campus welcoming for all students with caring responsibilities, particularly those with younger children.