Angry parents and staff have confronted management at Goldsmiths, University of London, to protest at the closure of the college nursery.
Goldsmiths say the nursery facility, which offers childcare to staff and student parents, is to be closed in September in order to save money. The protestors say this is a ‘shot in the foot’ for the college.
The protest outside the college’s Ben Pimlott Building on Tuesday afternoon was timed to coincide with a meeting of the Goldsmiths Council, the body with the authority to approve the facility’s closure.
Student parents and union representatives confronted Council members, demanding that the nursery, which has been rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted, remain open.
Protesters carried placards, blew bubbles and played drums to call attention to their cause.
Des Freedman, UCU President at Goldsmiths, said: “The nursery offers essential services to all Goldsmiths users, and we don’t feel the college has made an adequate case for closing it. We have made lots of constructive proposals and we don’t feel management have taken them on board.”
Bindz Patel, President of Goldsmiths Student Union, added: “It’s unacceptable that the college would make claims to support diversity and widening participation, but that the first of the cuts would hit the smallest minority of students and staff.”
The college announced the plan to close the nursery earlier this month. Opponents criticised the timing of this move, claiming that they were given little time to react.
Katharina Habibi, a student parent, described the move as ‘despicable.’ “The short notice is just insulting,” she said. “I don’t have a plan B – I will definitely struggle to return to my studies in September.”
But Goldsmiths has described the closure as being ‘in the best interests of the College as a whole,’ stating that it is currently ‘operating at a loss’ of £70,000 each year.
A report produced by the college concluded that the nursery ‘benefits only a small number of parents,’ due to its very limited number of available places. Only around 30 places are available, including 23 on a full-time basis.
Hugh Jones, Registrar and Secretary at Goldsmiths, and Pat Loughrey, the college’s new Warden, were both involved in heated exchanges with protestors who surrounded them as they arrived for the meeting.
Mr Jones described one protestor’s account of the situation as ‘twisting and distorting’ the facts. “I think the idea that this is precipitous, that this has been done quickly, is unfair,” he said. “The nursery doesn’t support the childcare needs of the college.”
The Warden highlighted the financial motives behind the closure. “There are unprecedented budget pressures on the college at the moment,” he said.
However, Mr Loughrey acknowledged the complaints of the protestors about their shortfall in childcare, adding: “We are very sympathetic to any device that we can come up with that will help us resolve this problem.”
The future of the nursery has remained uncertain for several years. In 2008, plans to outsource its functions were announced by the college, but were never implemented.