Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6511

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Vol cxlviii No 35

pp. 701–725

Report of Discussion: Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Franklin was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Deputy Senior Proctor, the Senior Pro‑Proctor, and nineteen other persons present.

The following items were discussed:

Report of the Council, dated 21 May 2018, on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest for 2018–19

(Reporter, 6508, 2017–18, p. 632).

Dr M. J. Rutter (Department of Physics and President of Cambridge UCU):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the recent Report of the Council on the financial position and budget of the University, recommending allocations from the Chest for 2018–19 is presumably intended to be read in conjunction with the Reports and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2017, published in the Reporter on 14 December last, and the original budget for the year ended 31 July 2017, published on 18 May 2016.

Such a conjunction leads to a more auspicious reading. The Chest budget for 2016–17 was for a small deficit of just over £3 million, with a total deficit in the budget being almost £20 million. In the event there was a small Chest surplus, of just £1 million, and the overall operating surplus of the University in that year, excluding gains on investments, was over £60 million. So it might be reasonable to assume that the current deficit budget will prove to be a less serious matter than it first appears. I shall refrain from diverting myself at length with similar comments on the nature of the USS pension fund deficit.

The Report we are discussing today states that ‘the scale of the University’s plans to invest in the estate is ambitious’. I cannot but agree. Its expansion plan,

the Joint University and Colleges Working Group on Postgraduate Student Numbers has agreed a collective target of 13.1% growth in the total population of full-time postgraduate students over five years,

must be making some remarkably rosy assumptions about the impact of Brexit. Again I shall refrain from diverting myself at length with contrasting comments about the more prudent forecasting assumptions that the USS uses.

But the Report is rather weak in describing investment in staff. The Financial Reports on the year recently ended offer little reassurance either.

We are about to hear the Harrison Drive nursery plans discussed. This year’s Special issue of the Reporter containing the Financial Management Information for the year ended 31 July 2017 tells us that the Childcare Office cost almost £400,000 to run, yet the University’s savings on National Insurance through childcare salary exchange schemes were almost £500,000. I do not deny that this scheme is a valuable staff benefit, but it is hardly an investment in staff.

I believe we are about to hear that nurseries are outsourced and provide income for the University and profit for the provider. I believe that the same is true for several canteens and vending machines on University premises, which may explain how fully commercial city centre outlets can offer better value for money. Staff should not feel that they are valued as a captive target for financial exploitation.

When he spoke in Great St Mary’s Church last term, the Vice-Chancellor expressed interest in the balance between investing in infrastructure and investing in staff. I share his interest. The Reports discussed today do not convince me that the correct balance has yet been found.

Professor R. J. Anderson (University Council, Department of Computer Science and Technology, and Churchill College), read by Dr D. R. Thomas:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of Council and of the Planning and Resources Committee, but make these remarks in a private capacity.

I had to think hard about whether to sign this Allocations Report. In the end I decided to sign but to express my reservations in this Discussion.

I would first like to reiterate the reservations I expressed here in January1 about signing the Annual Report. The Vice-Chancellor has failed, despite repeated demands, to give me access to the papers of the Investment Board, despite the fact that as a member of Council I am entitled to such access under Council standing order 10.2. It is a matter of grave concern that our senior management team is not prepared to play by the rules. As a result I expect that I will be unable to sign the 2018 Annual Report in November.

Second, the management of Council business has been unsatisfactory. Our February meeting was cancelled and then there was too much business for March and April; there was no time to discuss the Allocations Report at the April Council (minute 96). I am nearing the end of my third term on Council, and have served under four Vice-Chancellors, and in that period I have dissented from an Allocations Report more than once. However, this is the first time that an Allocations Report has come to the Regent House without proper debate in Council first.

Third, the Allocations Report takes little heed of the fact that we are set to run a deficit. In previous years, attempts were made to get deficits under control, but this time we see expenditure continuing to climb. Looking at the detail, it is feast and famine; feast for the centre, with substantial increases for the UAS and the UIS, and famine for the academic departments that do the productive work.

At Cambridge, as at other universities, we have lots of incredibly competitive academic departments full of bright and driven people who work long hours and get great results, while at the same time we have administrative departments that are flabby, inefficient, and self-satisfied. Over the years, this House has seen problems with North West Cambridge, HR, estates, our financial systems ... the list goes on and on. This is not really hard to understand. Academics are competitive; we compete with peers round the world. Administrators face the same incentives as civil servants, with similar outcomes.

The fit parts of the University fall under the General Board, while managing the flabby parts is the responsibility of the Council. I’m afraid we’re not much good at it. When we face a deficit, austerity is in order. But of austerity there is little sign in this Report. The individual line items may have fierce advocates, but the overall bottom line is not satisfactory. And given that we are likely to have to find another fifteen million pounds a year to keep the USS afloat, the eventual outcome is likely to be even worse than the forecast.

I am sure that Regents will join me in wishing the new Pro-Vice‑Chancellor for Strategy and Planning all the best in sorting out this mess. If Cambridge is to remain in the premier division internationally, then the ratio of fat to muscle needs to be bounded. Perhaps we need a hard limit on the ratio of School versus non‑School expenditures to be encoded into Statute and Ordinance.

Professor D. J. Maskell (Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Resources), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this year’s Budget Report has commented on the upheaval in political and economic climates, and the extensive change in the regulation of the higher education sector. Notwithstanding this prolonged period of uncertainty, the University has to pursue and commit to strategies in education and research, and the financial plans that underpin them.

As anticipated in previous Budget Reports, the Chest is forecast to remain in deficit across all years of the planning period. The overall Chest position has deteriorated and urgent progress is needed to reduce the deficit and, in time, eradicate it. The deterioration seen this year is due, in large part, to provision for new costs associated with University-wide initiatives such as the People Strategy. Attracting and retaining the best academic and professional staff is fundamental to the continued success of the University. There have also been new costs in the form of increases in Chest allocations to the Schools and Non-School Institutions. This includes new allocation to implement the recommendations of the Research Administration Review. The measures taken as a result should enhance pre- and post-award research administration services and contribute to improving the University’s rate of overhead recovery on research grants and contracts.

Reducing the Chest deficit and improving financial capacity for long-term investment will be underpinned by a new 10- to 15-year high-level financial model that is in development under the oversight of the Chief Financial Officer. This model will be important in providing a more informed understanding of the financial options available to the University to maintain world-leading education and research, and deliver the facilities needed to support these activities. This is essential if the University’s global reputation for excellence is to be protected. However, a better understanding of what is financially manageable now, and sustainable in the long-term, must inform the University’s prioritization of resource for current and future academic goals and objectives. A new approach to planning and resource allocation must be developed to facilitate this and will be one of the priorities for the incoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Planning. Equally, the structure, tenacity, and support of the University’s governance arrangements will be essential in enabling and guiding the necessary work, recommending difficult decisions and facilitating change and improvement.

Part of the financial strategy must be a greater focus on delivering and implementing a plan to constrain or reduce costs. An urgent piece of work is to identify a more joined‑up approach to the professional services delivered through the UAS, other Non-School Institutions, and Schools and their Faculties and Departments. Duplication of activity should be reduced and, where possible, eliminated, resulting in a more streamlined and efficient University-wide administration.

The University’s forecast expenditure on capital is also a source of considerable cost pressure. Income must be raised externally to contribute to a majority of the costs of new buildings and the recurrent activity they will house. A new capital prioritization and scoring tool has been developed over the last twelve months and is being introduced to support the prioritization of capital projects and overall decision-making. While external borrowing is a viable option to fund revenue-generating capital expenditure it is not an appropriate source of funds for the academic estate where an increasing proportion will need to be funded through philanthropy and grants.

Improving the University’s financial sustainability will also require new income to be raised, and measures are already under way or in implementation in support of this. The Joint University and Colleges Working Group on Postgraduate Student Numbers has agreed a target for 13.1% growth in the total population of full-time postgraduate students over five years.

The Resource Management Committee has approved a new Income Incentivization Model that will determine allocations for Schools from 2019–20, and introduce incentives to raise new income. The model retains the stability of fixed baseline allocations from the Chest, but supplements these on an annual basis with cost-neutral distributions to Schools based on year-on-year increases in targeted streams of gross Chest income. The streams of income have been chosen to complement University-level academic priorities: growth in postgraduate student numbers, an improvement in the rate of recovery of indirect costs of research, and an increase in the proportion of Doctoral students to Masters students.

The financial challenges facing the University are recognized and the Council, with the support of its Finance Committee, and working closely with the Chief Financial Officer and incoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, will be considering short-term and long-term measures to improve the current financial position in the academic University. Notwithstanding this pressure, this Budget Report has recommended investment in certain critical areas, including in the recruitment and retention of the best staff. This is particularly important if the University is to be in a strong position to respond robustly to external challenges and changes in the years ahead.

Finally, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the work of colleagues across the UAS in preparing the data and projections that inform this Report, which I commend to the Regent House.

Dr S. J. Cowley (University Council and Faculty of Mathematics), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of the Council and the Finance Committee, but I speak in a personal capacity.

I signed this Report, but I had reservations when I did so. The total budget is predicted to be in deficit at least until 2021–22. Finance Committee has also been informed that the University’s cash flow, excluding capital expenditure, is predicted at best to be zero next year, and will probably be negative.

Further, so far, no account has been taken for any extra expenditure on USS that might be agreed, and the amount set aside for pay awards is only 2%, while the loss of earnings of staff over the last decade is estimated at between 10% and 20% (depending on what measure is used).

From my viewpoint one of the issues is that the University agrees to expenditure at one level, which then becomes significantly inflated over time. When as a member of the Council I agreed to the establishment of Cambridge University Health Partners in 2009 (or thereabouts), the cost was to be just under £100k charged to the Medical School. As I understand it the next two years will cost the University, not the Medical School, £750k and £500k.

In 2006 when Cambridge Enterprise was established, it was stated in the Report of the Council on the incorporation of Cambridge Enterprise as a limited company,1 that

the financial performance for the next five years should be judged on a basis of financial self-sufficiency. The University would subsidize CE Ltd through Chest and HEIF funding and through the provision of services. CE Ltd surplus is the net profit after dispersal to departments but including equity realizations and any unpaid-for services provided to the University. The criterion for financial performance is simply whether the subsidy minus the surplus is in decline and showing progress towards a positive return by 2016.

It is well past 2016, yet there is extra funding for Cambridge Enterprise in this Report.

When the University Information Services was established, it was expected that there would be efficiencies from the merger of the University Computing Service and the Management Information Services Division. Some of us were sceptical at the time and signed a Note of Dissent.2 I note that there is more funding in this Report for projects overseen by the Information Services Committee.

I have recently, in this House,3 referred to the seemingly disproportionate increase in numbers in academic-related staff numbers. There is again an uplift in the administrative budget of over £1 million, following the £4 million increase from last year (although there may be some double counting here).

I have no doubt that those Officers responsible for the University budget are concerned about the deficit. Indeed, at a recent Planning and Resources Meeting it is minuted that

The Chief Financial Officer emphasised the importance of exerting financial discipline over the current and future operation of the Capital Fund. If donations for buildings are not raised, then projects cannot be taken forward.

Moreover, there is more bad news if one looks at the budget of phase one of North West Cambridge.

A common theme for me is that financial predictions have consistently been too rosy (maybe in the hope of obtaining approval). Matters need to change, and the quality of forecasts needs to improve. Liam Byrne’s quote of ‘I’m afraid there is no money’, may be putting it too strongly, but the University is facing a period of financial realism.

Mr T. N. Milner (Chair of the Board of Scrutiny, 2017–18, Senior Proctor, and Darwin College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Board of Scrutiny examines, on behalf of the Regent House, the Annual Report of the Council, the Report of the General Board to the Council, the Reports and Financial Statements, and the Annual Report of the Council on the financial position and budget of the University recommending allocations from the Chest. Under its regulations in Ordinances, the Board also has the right to examine the policies of the University and the arrangements made for the implementation of those policies, and to report thereon to the University.

The Board is in the process of preparing its Twenty-third Report. As well as making remarks on the ‘Allocations Report’ at this Discussion, members of the Regent House can communicate with the Board about it by email to or in hard copy to the Chair of the Board at Darwin College, but should please do so swiftly if they wish any comments to be taken into consideration during the writing of this Report.

Topic of Concern to the University: Grace 3 of 10 May 2018 (proposed University nursery building)*

(Reporter, 6507, 2017–18, p. 578).

Dr S. Watson (Faculty of Education and Wolfson College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak in my own capacity and as the representative of the University and College Union (UCU) members in the Faculty of Education and on behalf of staff in the Faculty of Education. I am going to speak on the issue of financialization and affordability; my colleagues will follow this up with further issues.

There is no doubt that there is high demand for childcare in the University. We are not questioning that. We are questioning the hidden agenda here and I want to show why this proposal should be rejected at this stage and the University should be encouraged to think again.

Given that the University has come under pressure to take a more ethical approach to investment, who would question the ethics of investment in childcare for University staff? The proposed nursery on Harrison Drive is a rentier project and not primarily a benefit to staff or the community. It is effectively a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) not dissimilar to those used in the hospitals and schools – a way of securing state-backed rents.

The combination of investment and childcare provision may appear on paper like a neat solution to a difficult problem, but like other PFIs the costs will be born by the users and will impact most those who can least afford it.

Investors are keen to get into the childcare and nursery businesses, not only to invest in the larger chains of childcare provider businesses who return healthy profits, but also to invest in the associated property business. Twenty years ago nurseries would largely have been run by local authorities, they were part of the community and part of the public sector. Successive governments’ policies have encouraged private enterprise and private finance to displace public provision. It is an attractive business with healthy demand, enjoys state subsidies, and has low labour costs.

LaingBuisson estimate the value of the UK day nursery market to be £5.3 billion,1 and according to Patrick Hayes of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) the value of the market would be £7.5 billion in 2017.2 A recent article on the Nursery World website revealed how attractive the UK nursery market is to overseas investors.3 There is no doubt that this is a growing business offering good returns for the investor.

Since the 1988 Education Reform Act successive governments have reduced public spending on higher education. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have increasingly had to rely on student debt and private finance to support them. It is essential that the University of Cambridge, then, invest their assets prudently and ensure that there are healthy returns on capital invested. This is not only necessary to generate income but also to maintain the University’s credit rating to ensure that it can raise private finance for capital expenditure. This is the financialized and marketized climate that the University now operates in. By investing in nursery provision, the University can meet its investment needs as well as providing much needed childcare for University staff.

However, it is the investment and need to secure ‘market’ returns that is driving this nursery provision and not the needs of staff and children. In 2017 University nursery fees increased by 8 percent because the University decided to charge market rent. In a letter sent to parents, this decision was justified by the Pro‑Vice-Chancellor in the following way:

As the University Nurseries do not directly support the Teaching and Learning function of the University, market rents have to be charged against the nursery premises. As a consequence of this from 1 August 2017, the University requires Childbase4 to be charged a commercial rent on both nursery buildings.

The loss in the value of pay for University staff in higher education has resulted in HE staff having less disposable income and facing increasing financial difficulties. According to the University and College Union, in 2016, 83 percent of union members said that their pay had not kept up with the increasing costs of living. Since 2009, pay awards in higher education have resulted in an indexed increase of 8.8 percent over eight years. In the same time period the Retail Price Index has increased by 28.1 percent. This amounts to a real terms loss of pay of 19.3 percent since 2009. If the total change in RPI is taken through to December 2017, to account for additional loss of pay since the last pay award in August 2017, the total increase is 29.7 percent, leaving workers in higher education 20.9 percent worse off since 2009.5

Meanwhile, childcare costs have increased by in excess of 48 percent according to the Trade Union Congress. The difference in the rate of increase between pay and childcare cost is greatest in London, where childcare costs rose 7.4 times faster than pay between 2008 and 2016, and the East Midlands, where they rose seven times quicker.6

Let me put this into perspective. First with a fictitious example based on real data. A couple with two pre-school children, living in Cambridge, working full-time for the University and between them earning £60,000 per annum – that gives them about £3,900 per month take home pay. Of that they can expect to pay rent of £1,5007 per month and on top of that bills of approximately £400. For their two children, full-time childcare will cost them £2,000 per month based on University prices.8 That leaves them with no disposable income.

There is a possibility that the couple could get 30 hours per week of childcare free via a government scheme. However, government childcare schemes have had many problems according to a recent Commons Treasury Committee report.9 The scheme is for 3 and 4 year olds and only covers 38 weeks a year. It is claimed by providers that it does not cover the costs of their provision. The result is that providers use other means of recouping their costs by charging for meals, nappies, and additional hours. Or worse, they choose not to offer the 30-hour free childcare scheme. The National Day Nursery Association’s (NDNA) Annual Nursery Survey for England findings, published in April 2017, indicated that just 44 percent of nurseries are likely to offer 30 hours and the Preschool Learning Alliance announced that only 44 percent of settings, mainly playgroups and childminders, aim to do so.10 For the ‘average’ couple in my example this means there is just a 44 percent chance that they will have money to put food on the table, let alone for transport or other activities. I have been told that the existing University nurseries offer the 30-hour free childcare scheme and without additional costs. There is also the salary sacrifice scheme and, according to Kiddivouchers, this would make a saving of £625 per year.

But overall, families who work for the University – even earning £60,000 per year – are likely to face hardship. The University, however, will secure market returns on the capital invested.

Let me give another example of the difficulties parents face when they work for the University. This is a real example, a single parent and in their own words:

I have to work a minimum of 16 hours a week to claim help towards my childcare costs (i.e., nursery from 9 months to 3 years). In reality, I have to pay for 17 hours a week to cover drop off and pick up. 17 hours a week childcare a month amounts to about £510 in my case. The government pays up to £300 of that amount. It is capped so that you can only claim help towards a certain amount. Any hours you work over that you have to pay the full price yourself. So for example, if I wanted to work full-time, my wage would be around £1,300. My childcare costs would be £1,275 for the month, with £300 help from the government. I would be working to pay for childcare.

I am not suggesting that the University should not offer childcare and nursery places. But I do think this is the wrong way to go about it. The proposal prioritizes market returns on capital investment for the University. I will stop short of saying the proposal is a cynical or disingenuous offering – I have no doubt that the project team working on this were well-intentioned. However, we have to look at this critically, we have to stand back and examine political economy, higher education policy, and the consequences that has on decision making. Indeed, I spoke about that on my previous contribution to a Discussion on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).11 We have to think about the real benefit and cost to staff. At present it appears that the University are transferring all the costs to the provider, to the parent, and in the long term to young children. You can see why I step close to feeling the proposal is disingenuous and cynical.

We should look again and explore alternative approaches to funding workplace nursery places and making that provision genuinely affordable for not just our lowest paid but also our average paid members of staff.

I will leave you with this: the University plans £4 billion12 of capital expenditure over the next twenty years, and it has total net assets of £4.355 billion.13 Wouldn’t a few million pounds invested in staff and their families, without the need for the University to secure a market return, not be a wholly sensible move?

Dr P. A. Sliwa (Faculty of Philosophy and Sidney Sussex College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the University is seeking to expand its nursery provisions by building an additional nursery in the south of the city. We welcome this effort. As the very long waiting list attests, there is a serious shortfall of nursery spaces in Cambridge. This causes a huge deal of anxiety for Cambridge University staff, who are left in the lurch as to whether they will have childcare when they return from parental leave, or when they join the University. It also takes a toll on productivity. We know of colleagues who, unable to secure a University nursery spot, make do with a patchwork of arrangements, spending more than an hour on each drop-off and pick-up. We know of colleagues who work in the south of the centre and commute twice daily across town to pick up their children from the West Cambridge nursery, often facing traffic delays. It is a good thing that the University recognizes the problem and is taking measures to remedy it.

But to be truly available for Cambridge University staff, nursery spaces need to be affordable. Affordability is already a huge problem for the existing nurseries. It promises to be an even more serious problem for the planned nursery on Harrison Drive.

For the current academic year, the University nursery costs £1,002.29 per child per month. That is £12,027.48 per year. For next year, the fees will rise to £1,047.39 per month. That is £12,568.68 per year.

The increase in fees this year is 4.5%. Last year, it was 8%. From 2011 to 2018–19, the nursery fees in University nurseries will have increased by 34%.

(This year, we are being asked to make do with a salary increase of 2%, which is less than the rise in the overall cost of living and less than one half of the increase in childcare fees last year alone. Since 2011, salaries for the majority of staff will have increased by approximately 10.2%.)

The University does not subsidize childcare for its staff. The fees for University nursery are comparable, and in some cases, even higher than for other local nurseries.

On the contrary, the University charges the childcare provider market rent on the premises. This means the University is lowering the buying power of its employees, while at the same time making more money off their childcare.

The University does offer a salary sacrifice scheme to those lucky enough to secure a workplace nursery spot. It is worth pointing out that the University also saves money on the salary sacrifice scheme, since it does not pay National Insurance contributions on the sacrificed portion of the salary.

The salary sacrifice scheme helps to make things a little more affordable. But the salary sacrifice scheme is regressive: it helps those the most who are already best off. The higher your tax bracket, the more money you save.

Even with the salary sacrifice scheme, the University nursery remains unaffordable for many academics, postdocs, and much of the University’s non-academic and administrative staff. We know of colleagues who struggle to pay for rent and childcare and food. We also know colleagues who cut on childcare, scrambling to make do with three or four days instead of five to cut on cost.

In a letter sent to staff whose children are in University nurseries, the University attempted to justify charging market rents on nursery premises by claiming that ‘University Nurseries do not directly support the Teaching and Learning function of the University’.

This claim is manifestly false. Affordable childcare makes a difference between people being at work and people not being at work. It makes a difference to recruitment. It makes a difference to staff mental health. It makes a difference to staff productivity. It directly supports the Teaching and Learning function of the University.

It is perhaps no surprise that the University arrived at this view without the benefit of any equality and diversity input. Even though the availability of affordable childcare is a factor that disproportionately affects women, the University’s Equality and Diversity Champions are not part of any conversations that relate to nursery fees. There is no E&D representation on the Staff Childcare committee.

Affordability is an even more serious concern for the planned nursery. This is because the financial model for the nursery on Harrison Drive differs from that of the existing University nurseries. The nursery at Harrison Drive is to be both financed and operated by a private provider.

Will a private provider be able to borrow money to finance the building at the same interest rates as the University? That seems unlikely and the difference will ultimately be made up by University staff, who will pay even higher fees than in existing nurseries.

The University itself admits that this is a possibility. As we can read in minutes of the Council and General Board’s Planning and Resources Committee from 11 October 2017:

There was a risk that childcare fees for the new nursery would be set at a higher level than current rates. Even so, fees were still anticipated to be competitive due to the tax benefit accessible to staff through the workplace nursery scheme.

To reiterate: the salary sacrifice scheme is already insufficient to make childcare affordable for staff, particularly those on lower salary grades. It will be even more inadequate if fees are set higher.

The financial model for the new nursery raises further concerns. It is predictable that the University will be locked with the private provider into a long-term contract. Will the University retain any influence on the fees set by the provider? Can the University guarantee that the provider will be able to offer the free 30 hours? Will higher fees in this nursery ultimately push up fees in the other University nurseries? And what if the nursery provision turns out to be sub-par?

Here then are our requests:

We call on the University to rethink the financial model for the planned nursery on Harrison Drive. It beggars belief that the University of Cambridge cannot afford to finance the building of a new nursery itself, when doing so would allow it to retain more control over the cost and quality of the nursery provision and would make the nursery more affordable to its staff.

We call on the University to provide transparency about the financial model of the existing nurseries. How much of the current fees flow back into the University’s pockets? How much of the annual fee increase is due to an increase in market rents? How much does the University save on National Insurance contributions through the salary sacrifice scheme? How is this income used?

We call on the University to include Equality and Diversity in all conversations to do with nursery provision, starting with an appointed E&D representative on the Staff Childcare Committee.

Finally, and most importantly, we call on the University to put its money where its mouth is and to take actions to make childcare not only ‘available’ but also affordable to all staff. The salary sacrifice scheme is not enough. The University should subsidize childcare for its employees, instead of treating it as another revenue stream in its portfolio and yet another opportunity to squeeze its staff for pay.

Mr J. L. Chiffins (Faculty of Education):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today to object on the proposed location for the new nursery building based on three concerns: traffic congestion, health and safety, and environmental factors.

The current proposal locates the nursery in a car park behind the Faculty of Education. This location is only accessible via Harrison Drive. Harrison Drive is a no‑through road that enters and exits from a junction on Hills Road between the Faculty of Education and Homerton College. In recent years, a new residential and commercial complex has been built at the end of Harrison Drive, which has increased traffic on Harrison Drive.

Harrison Drive is also the delivery access road for Homerton College. The delivery point for lorries is located at the proposed entrance to the nursery. Delivery and collection lorries will park at peak hours as parents are attempting to access the nursery. Due to the fact that Harrison Drive is a narrow no-through road, these lorries must also use the car park entrance to reverse in and out. That entrance is also the access point for the proposed nursery. At nursery drop-off and pick-up times, Harrison Drive would be potentially gridlocked.

We have also witnessed a large increase in traffic on Hills Road over the past few years. At Harrison Drive, Hills Road is often gridlocked with cars, lorries, buses, and ambulances that are going to and from the city and Addenbrooke’s Hospital. An additional influx of cars during peak travel times will have an extremely negative impact on traffic for those who use Hills Road.

We acknowledge that data has been collected by means of traffic count and cameras. However, due to the times when this was collected and the location of these measures, this data does not reflect an accurate account of traffic usage on Harrison Drive. The data was collected outside of term time for the Faculty of Education and these vacation periods are always less busy.

Data should be collected over a longer period of time and in several locations. Moreover, data collection should record the variety of traffic, including cycles and pedestrians, to provide accurate figures. Only with this more accurate data can an informed decision be made on whether this location can actually sustain an increase of families dropping off and picking up the children from the nursery.

Introducing further traffic calming measures at this junction, such as traffic lights, would lead to additional queueing traffic outside the main building of the Faculty of Education. It would also add an additional stopping point on Hills Road, which already hosts four sets of traffic lights within approximately l00m of the Harrison Drive junction. Traffic lights, which may be necessary for safety reasons, would further slow down traffic on this busy arterial route.

In addition to these traffic concerns, I want to point to two important safety concerns. The junction at Harrison Drive and Hills Road crosses a main cycle path, which was introduced in 2016 as an incentive for cyclists to reduce the congestion on Hills Road. The cycle path is heavily used by those who are going to and from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Hills Road and Long Road Sixth Form Colleges, the Perse Secondary School, and the EF International Language School. The path is therefore used by young children, families, and students. Unfortunately, accidents have already occurred between cars and cyclists at this junction point. The peak use of the cycle path would coincide with key drop-off times for the nursery and thus further increase the chance of the first fatality at this junction.

Given the potential for gridlock on Harrison Drive, it is also likely that parents will park on double yellow lines on both sides of the road. They will have to walk their children across the road to the nursery as cars and lorries are attempting to turn around, causing further congestion and potential safety hazards.

In addition to these traffic and safety concerns, I want to point to environmental factors that make this location undesirable for almost 1,000 students, staff, and visitors of the Faculty of Education. The Faculty of Education’s main air handling unit, which is responsible for air circulation throughout the Donald McIntyre Building, is located in the basement and draws air at just below ground level on Harrison Drive. This air is likely to be of poorer quality if the nursery is built, impacting the health of students and staff.

The Faculty’s flagship teaching rooms – each with the ability to hold up to 100 students – are also located alongside Harrison Drive. These rooms’ large windows are often open during the spring and summer months for ventilation and air flow. Any queuing traffic, which would likely be during peak teaching hours, would see additional noise and air pollution enter the building, impacting the health of students and staff.

I also have concerns about the impact of the building on a Giant Sequoia tree, which is located in the grounds of the Faculty directly adjacent to the proposed site of the nursery. This tree is protected under a Tree Protection Order and building work presents a risk to the existence of this tree in terms of construction damage. A more detailed or second survey should be carried out before this proposal is considered any further.

Finally, students and staff at the Faculty of Education are very fortunate to have a modest reflective space for study and wellbeing located in the garden adjacent to the proposed nursery site. This, and the Giant Sequoia, is also a home for wildlife. This nursery project will threaten the continued use of this outdoor space by students, staff, visitors, and wildlife, and will contribute to ‘town cramming’.

As a result of these concerns – traffic congestion, health and safety, and environmental factors – the proposed nursery should not be built on this site.

Dr D. R. Thomas (Department of Computer Science and Technology, the West Cambridge Active Travel Group, and Peterhouse):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is an exceptional situation. The normal procedure for approval of Reports is that they are published, there is a Discussion, the Council responds to the Discussion and proposes a Grace to pass the Report with any necessary amendments. If the members of the Regent House are dissatisfied with the Council’s response they may then call a ballot on the Grace. However, in this case there was a Report, a Discussion at which only I submitted comments,1 to which the Council adequately responded2 and proposed a Grace. A ballot was then called on this Grace and a new Discussion called for despite no concerns being raised at the previous Discussion.

This indicates some sort of failure of the governance system. Cambridge UCU tweeted:

Cambridge University plans to build a nursery on the site of the Faculty of Education, without prior consultation with members, and in spite of multiple objections raised.

Now there was a consultation in the form of a Discussion but perhaps interested parties were not aware of it either because they do not receive the Reporter, because they only receive the Reporter by email and so are less likely to read it than with a paper copy, or because they were not entitled to attend a Discussion or did not believe they were entitled to attend. Has the University failed to enfranchise enough of its staff with Regent House membership (our proposed Grace amendment: Grace 1 of 18 April 2018 addresses this) or is the set of those entitled to attend Discussions too narrow? In particular, perhaps all University staff should always be entitled to attend Discussions regardless of whether they are graduates of this University or not. Perhaps the Faculty of Education failed to advertise the Discussion to its staff?

Now it was not known in advance what the reason for calling a ballot was, though doubtless this will become clear during this Discussion. However, Cambridge UCU tweeted:

members have raised serious objections concerning sustainability, financial model, and disruption to traffic and workflow both for those working and those dropping children off.

Now while a site plan for the new nursery was included in the Reporter it only gives the location and so such concerns cannot be assessed. The Reporter links to a Raven protected PDF (which will not be preserved for posterity) which contains three pages extracted from a much longer document (pp. 33 and 43 are shown) but again there is no detail on the basis of which such concerns could be tested. Hence, I will again note that the process by which the Council requests the consent of the Regent House on planning matters is inadequate because the Regent House is not provided with the kind of detail that would be required for it to provide informed consent. Clearly the University has the information and could and should provide it.

As others will doubtless argue, there is a clear need for a new University nursery. This does seem a good location, particularly due to its closeness to the Triangle site (Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment), the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and the Cambridge Railway Station. It also benefits from the relatively good cycling facilities on Hills Road and would allow parents coming from the south to drop off their children before attempting the bridge or the more dangerous routes further into town. Unfortunately it is not on the Universal bus route which is popular with the parents of children at the West Cambridge nursery.

In terms of ‘sustainability’ there is plenty of demand to sustain such a nursery both now and for the foreseeable future and presumably the design will aim to be environmentally sustainable. On the financial model we do not really have any details on which to evaluate the model and so that is a potential problem but presumably we could switch back to the models used successfully in the past if necessary? It does seem strange that the University will design a building that someone else will then have to agree to pay for and operate; it is important that the design meets the needs of such an operator and so they should be involved in the planning process as early as possible.

On the design: most children will probably arrive by cycle but Harrison Drive is quite narrow and it does not have a good place for cars to turn round at the end. Perhaps an alternative walking and cycling route from Hills Road running past Trumpington House could be provided to prevent cyclists with children and motor vehicles mixing. Some improved turning facilities for motor vehicles will likely also be required. The Report does not specify where alternative cycle and car parking for the Faculty of Education will be provided or if car drivers will be expected to use the Trumpington Park and Ride, which will, I am told, soon have rather improved park and cycle facilities and is a fairly short and safe cycle away, though clearly not as convenient as the current provision. Leaving this unclear is unfair on the staff of the Faculty of Education.

In summary, the University still needs to improve the way it consults on planning matters but this important project should definitely go ahead after concerns with the design have been addressed. If the design presented at the Second-stage Report lacks sufficient detail or is of poor quality then I will oppose it at that point.

Dr M. G. Morrison-Helme (Faculty of Education and Homerton College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as an Education Faculty, we feel we have the insight and expertise based on high quality research to know what constitutes high quality, appropriate, Early Years education and nursery provision. We welcome the fact the University sees the need for more nursery provision, but are extremely disappointed on educational grounds by the ill-conceived proposal on the table for a nursery on Harrison Drive. It is on these grounds that one of our strongest objections lies – we think the University should be looking to provide high quality nursery provision in an environment conducive to educational development – affordable and inclusive. This is a proposal that is not offering high quality provision, is not planned in such a way to environmentally support such provision, and indeed could risk the safety and wellbeing of children. Let me flesh out some of these issues in more detail, through questions that have been raised by internationally recognized leading academics in the field of Early Education – experts we have within the Faculty of Education.

Does the University really value high quality, best practice nursery provision based on the choice of this site and the educational model proposed?

When the previous Vice-Chancellor of the University spoke at the ceremonial commissioning of the University Primary School on the North West Cambridge site (in 2014), and dug the first turf to commence the building work, he congratulated Dr James Biddulph on his appointment as Headteacher and wished him well with this exciting new educational adventure under the wing of the University. But he warned that the school, as part of the University’s educational provision, needed to be excellent. And quite rightly so. This University strives to be world class in everything it does, and everyone who works for the University is very proud to be part of such an institution.

The same principle, and the same bold ambition, should also extend to the University’s provision of nursery education. It needs to be excellent. A good deal is known about why excellent, high quality early childhood education is important. Professor James Heckman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2000 for his work reviewing the economics of educational investment. As part of this he reviewed the extensive research on this topic and showed that, in straight economic terms, investment in early childhood, pre-school, or nursery education provided by far the greatest return – estimated by various particular studies at between 12 and 15 times return on investment. This return, he demonstrated, was partly due to a significant decline in criminal activity by individuals who had been fortunate to attend a high quality nursery, and partly due to their increased tax contribution arising from their significantly improved academic and employment trajectory. There are also, of course, very significantly improved outcomes for such fortunate individuals relating to their abilities to form lasting friendships and intimate relationships, work well in teams, and achieve in life fully to their potential.

An exciting outcome from the work of Heckman and now many others is that governments all over the world are massively investing in pre-school education, and seeking guidance as to the essential ingredients to ensure that this provision is of high quality. This world-wide movement has also been encouraged by the aspiration within the UN’s Sustainable Goals for 2015–2030, signed by all 193 UN member countries, to provide every child worldwide with high quality pre-school education. The Faculty of Education and early childhood educators within it are receiving many advances to work with educational providers across the world to support this ambition. This is very important work through which the University can make a very significant contribution to enhancing educational opportunities to children worldwide. It is therefore vitally important that the University’s own nursery provision is seen to be evidence-based and of the highest possible quality. We can play a significant role in promoting enhancements in this area.

We understand the University carried out a survey of needs a couple of years ago which showed that ideally, they need five nurseries around the city. As the two existing are in the north and west of the city, we can understand why a nursery on the south side was proposed. Our concern is that this is just not an appropriate site for a quality nursery, particularly in terms of the projected numbers of children it will be taking and what will be possible on this site in terms of outdoor play areas and safe drop-off and pick-up areas. In terms of drop-off and pick-up-there is a misconception that parents merely ‘drop off’ and ‘pick up’ young children. They will all want to park and stay for ten or more minutes each time. The site allows no adequate provision for this if it is to offer 100 places.

It would seem that the proposal is based on financial convenience rather than genuine care for quality, safe, or accessible nursery care. The car park at the back of the Donald McIntyre Building has been chosen because the University already lease it from Homerton College, so there is limited cost for the site. It is too small for a 100-place nursery and inappropriately positioned. There is currently a University nursery in the North West of Cambridge that takes the same number on a larger space and with outdoor provision – this proposal looks to offer the same number of places, but in a smaller more compromised space. It is an unsuitable and inadequate site for a 100-place nursery. It is too small to provide sufficient outdoor space (very important for this age group) and the cramped space and increased traffic makes children’s safety a serious concern. Outdoor space is vital for young children – enormous quantities of research support the fact that without this children’s learning, health, and development is compromised – this proposal would seem to ignore the importance of this; the site cannot accommodate it adequately, if at all.

Does the University really value high quality nursery provision based on the choice of management?*

Academics and tutors who specialize in Early Years education have significant concerns about the standard of provision in non-maintained nurseries, such as this proposed. [...][1] [T]he proposed new nursery school on land behind the Faculty of Education is to be built on an inadequate site and [its management, and the responsibility for quality provision, is to be handed over to a private childcare provider. ... ][1] Not surprisingly, various research studies have shown that the level of qualifications of the staff is the major influence on the quality of early childhood educational provision. The only advantage of the present proposal is that it is cheap i.e., it is to be built on land already leased by the University, and its management is to be subcontracted out to [an independent provider][1].

While there may be some subsidy available for University staff at this University, as an independent provider costs are likely to be very high. If the University genuinely care about nursery provision for staff this nursery does not address the vital need that exists for high quality, affordable education. It is likely, competing as it will with low cost nurseries, that either resource provision would be cut to maintain a profit margin (and this will compromise quality education) or it would become an expensive independent nursery which would do little to support staff (and these staff are more likely to be younger and on lower salary scales, i.e., those likely to have young children that need a nursery place).

Does the University value excellence in education at all levels and widening participation?

In terms of the site proposed, another critical issue would seem to have been overlooked – the site will consume what is currently a car park for the Faculty of Education, a Faculty that offers a considerable number of part-time graduate courses and professional training programmes involving considerable numbers of visitors every day. The loss of this will mean far more than just a loss of convenience – it will hugely compromise some of the core work of the Faculty, including outreach and widening participation. The Faculty offer the most highly ranked P.G.C.E.s nationally – primary and secondary. These courses require teachers to come in for training days and staff going in and out of the Faculty throughout the day on school visits to state comprehensive schools, often at a great distance. Car parking is not a luxury in these cases, it is vital to carry out their work.

The Faculty of Education also fear that compromising the parking facility could lead to the disinclination for external parties e.g., partnership school colleagues, to be involved with the Faculty due to the inconvenience of locale and no parking. This could in turn compromise the quality provision of our P.G.C.E. and graduate programmes (and we have just heard how much value the University want to place on their graduate programmes). Currently the reputation the Faculty has for school partnerships is outstanding within the country – it is a huge concern that this nursery, in the site proposed, could jeopardize the education of our postgraduates, particularly part-time students.

Finally, and most importantly for us within the Faculty of Education, we are extremely worried about the reputational risk for the Faculty of Education.

Reputational risk for the Faculty of Education

Because of all the reasons I have stated, colleagues and staff in the Faculty of Education are extremely concerned because of the risk this nursery poses to our reputation. It is inevitable that public perception will link the two due to their physical proximity – they will be right next to each other. The ethos of the nursery is potentially at odds with that of the Faculty, and this is extremely worrying.

In the strongest possible terms, we would make the case that the University should not be accepting mediocre provision for our young children, but should be striving for excellence, as it rightly does throughout the rest of its educational provision. When the Vice-Chancellor opened the new University Primary School he said it was a brilliant addition to the University’s educational provision, but only excellence was acceptable.

So why doesn’t this apply to its preschool provision which, as is now well established, is the phase of education which makes the greatest contribution to long-term educational and life achievements. Why aren’t we striving for excellence in this case? Why isn’t this provision worth spending some of the University’s reserves on? Why aren’t our aspirations in this area the same as those across the rest of the University?

We believe the University should be both fostering best practice in the nursery provision it provides and supporting the high-quality practice currently being undertaken within the Faculty to support teacher education and thus support quality education at all levels for young people – this proposal compromises both.

Editorial Footnotes

  • [1In accordance with Regulation 6 for Discussions, and following consultation with the author, this text has either been amended or omitted from the published record.]

  • *The editorial footnotes and associated amendments in this paragraph (as indicated by square brackets) were made on 21 June 2018 and the online and pdf versions updated accordingly.

Dr T. J. Denmead (Faculty of Education and Queens’ College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, offering world-leading and affordable, if not free, childcare services for staff should be a high priority for the University of Cambridge. However, I object to the consultation process for the current proposal for a nursery located off Harrison Drive behind the Faculty of Education.

Consultation with University employees most affected by this location was inadequate. On 12 November 2015, four options for the nursery were presented at an open meeting at the Faculty of Education. Staff were provided three working days to respond with questions and concerns.

Those documented questions and concerns show a consensus. Consulted staff agreed with a nursery in principle but were opposed to its proposed location. One person said:

I fully support the University’s initiative to provide more nursery places and I can see a certain logic on the face of it – to base it at the Faculty of Education where there is teaching expertise and advice on site. However, I cannot imagine a more logically inappropriate place to put it.

One question posed by staff during this 2015 consultation process was whether the Faculty of Education would be alerted to changes in plans and whether there would be open lines of communication between the Faculty and those working on this proposal. The answer to that question, now three years later, appears to be no.

The lack of direct and open communication with staff at the Faculty of Education is particularly problematic because the proposed site is no longer what it once was. Since 2015, there has been considerable property development on the no-through road, Harrison Drive, which makes the concerns expressed then only more relevant now.

It is important to recognize that the staff that would be most affected by the implementation of this proposal at the Faculty of Education are not members of the Regent House. These valued staff, who rely upon parking at the Faculty of Education, have various concerns, including the impact of this proposal on the feasibility of continuing their work commute without suitable parking. Sixty-one staff members, who are not Regents, have objected to this proposal based on its potential negative impacts on the Faculty of Education, as well as the nature of the financial model being used.

Their document reads:

Dear Vice-Chancellor:

We, the undersigned members of Assistant Staff, Teaching Associates, and Research Staff of the Faculty of Education, are writing to you concerning the proposed Nursery building on Harrison Drive. As Assistant Staff, Teaching Associates, and Research Staff we do not have a voice at Regent House but we would like to register our objections.[1]

This lack of open and direct consultation is also problematic because the Faculty of Education holds considerable expertise in early childhood development and education, which would be useful to the University in providing world-class services to its employees.

For example, before his recent retirement, Dr David Whitebread, an internationally recognized expert in early childhood education, represented the Faculty of Education on the University’s Nursery Committee. When he questioned the size of the site for a proposed 100-place nursery, and particularly noted the very limited outdoor space this afforded, he was told that the site met the national minimum standards. Any part of this University’s educational provision, at every other phase, would be rightly roundly castigated and summarily closed, if it just managed to meet national minimum standards. The same should be the case when we are judging a proposal to extend the University’s educational provision for the youngest members of our community.

In place of proceeding with this current proposal, myself and my colleagues in the Faculty of Education would propose that:

(a)this proposal is withdrawn;

(b)a full scale review is undertaken of the quality of the University’s nursery provision, and a plan of investment drawn up to enable the University to provide world-leading early childhood educational provision;

(c)expertise within and beyond the University should be recruited to carry out this review;

(d)informed by this review, plans should be made to purchase appropriate sites for University nursery schools across the Cambridge area, and to fund these schools to a level so that highly qualified staff can be employed to ensure the highest possible quality of practice;

(e)staff impacted by those sites are consulted openly throughout the planning process; and

(f)the University should establish a reconfigured Nursery Committee which includes staff with early childhood educational expertise, to oversee the rolling out of such a plan, and the continuing development of nursery school provision for the benefit of the children of University employees.

Editorial Footnote

Mr D. J. Carter (Faculty of Education):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the potential impact on parking and the corresponding nursery-related traffic presents a considerable risk to Faculty business because the site is not suitable for this development. I recommend you all have a look. All courses are affected, including most noticeably the Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) – as part-time students with full-time jobs they have been granted permission to park, by the University statutes, so that they can attend their sessions; and the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (P.G.C.E.) – lecturers need to bring cars to work as they undertake school visits which occur throughout the day and year, as part of student support and assessment. Parking is also required for sponsors and for partners from the Faculty’s schools that are an essential part of the University’s widening access programme.

The loss of cycle parking (a proposed 23 spaces down from the current 81 spaces) is also very significant for staff and students. Disability access is lost for all staff and students. Access for service vehicles (e.g., caterers, rubbish trucks, and contractors) is severely impeded.

The Faculty is not a central location and with the loss of transport infrastructure (the Uni4 bus no longer passes) the Faculty cannot do its business effectively if its staff, students, and visitors cannot park.

Dr C. J. Edmonds (School of Clinical Medicine):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Secretary of the School of Clinical Medicine my role is to lead the professional services support function in the School. I was also a member of the Nursery Project Board for a year while the academic representative from the School on the committee was on sabbatical. I am therefore aware first-hand of the careful deliberations that have taken place at every stage of the design and plans to date for the proposed new nursery.

The Clinical School has 400 academic-related and 616 assistant staff. These staff carry out vital support roles to the academic and research endeavour and the School finds it challenging to recruit and retain these staff in the face of competition from other major employers – or indeed other parts of the University. These staff, aside from a handful of established academic-related officers such as myself, have no voice in the Regent House due to the nature of University governance. I should therefore like to draw attention to the needs of these groups of staff for affordable childcare provision close to their workplace – bearing in mind many of these staff earn quite modest salaries, and most live out of Cambridge and hence either have higher public transport travel costs or have to pay for car parking on the Biomedical Campus (that is elsewhere in the University provided for free). A workplace nursery such as that proposed at Harrison Drive would be of great benefit for these staff.

I sometimes come across a misconception that because the skyline over the Biomedical Campus is studded with cranes, there is an abundance of land available for development and it would be easy to situate a new nursery on the doorstep of the School. Sadly, this is far from the case. The University has title to very little land on the Campus and while it might be possible to work with the NHS or one of the tenant companies, they too are very constrained for space (the Campus is a very densely occupied urban environment unlikely to be suitable for nursery provision) and the University would necessarily be a junior partner in such a development. Given that demand for childcare on the Campus outstrips provision several times over, it is not realistic to expect the Campus to be able to achieve a self-contained solution – so we need help from the wider University.

Professor C. Abell (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Chair of the Nursery Project Board, and Christ’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as the Chair of the University’s Nursery Project Board. We are delighted at the opportunity to present the proposal for a new University nursery at Harrison Drive, which will address the urgent need for more nursery places, in the part of the city with the most immediate requirement and at minimal cost to the University.

The Nursery Project Board was convened to address the need to expand the University’s childcare provision. The University’s nurseries are heavily oversubscribed, and not all members of staff enjoy the benefit of access to subsidized funding under the Workplace Nursery Scheme, despite this being listed as a benefit available to all staff. Demand for places at the University’s nurseries continues to increase, and with it, dissatisfaction at the lack of availability of places. A survey of childcare and nursery provision at the University was conducted on the Board’s behalf by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research in 2016. This made clear the substantial gap between the University’s current level of provision, and the forecast level of need.

In considering the location of the next nursery, the Board prioritized the south of the city, from where it is difficult to access existing University nursery provision. The Board were able to identify land that is currently leased by the University from Homerton College over a long period, and is currently used as a car park by the Faculty of Education. Estate Management subsequently conducted a review, and were unable to identify any other suitable sites in University ownership in that part of the city that could be developed economically in the short term. Once the site was established as a serious potential opportunity, a member of the Faculty of Education was invited to join the Board from early 2016; the Faculty nominated a representative at this point, and since Spring 2017 this role has been undertaken by the Head of the Faculty. A number of visits have been made to the Faculty to discuss the proposal by members of the Board, including myself. This included a presentation of the Concept Design to the Faculty of Education Advisory Group* in February 2018. The concerns of the Faculty have been noted by the Board and considerable effort has been undertaken to ensure that the Faculty could be fully represented throughout the process. Written comments provided by the Faculty in response to the Concept Design were incorporated into the formal RIBA Stage 2 Report.

The nursery has been carefully designed, not just to an excellent standard, but also with consideration for prospective neighbours. The design aims to minimize noise, but it is important to note the nursery will be situated within an already noisy urban environment. The site lies between Hills Road, one of the main arterial routes of Cambridge, and the mainline railway to London terminals, together with the guided busway. It is close to Hills Road Sixth Form College and is bordered, inter alia, by Hills Road Sports Centre (with its large outdoor tennis facility), the Faculty of Education Building, and Homerton College.

An evaluation of the impact on traffic on site has been undertaken, and would, in any case, be a part of the Local Planning Authority’s assessment of the suitability of the site for the nursery. Although the nursery will use some of the space currently used by the Faculty for car parking, an alternative nearby car park at Homerton College has the capacity to absorb much of the car parking that will be lost by building the nursery. The re-provisioning of a majority of the spaces used, and an increase in the provision of cycle parking is consistent with the University objectives to reduce car use and provide for and promote more sustainable modes of travel, as detailed in the University Travel Plan.1 The cycle parking will include space for non-standard bikes such as cargo bikes, and a buggy store for those walking to and from the nursery.

The Finance Committee has considered and approved the financial model for the nursery. This development is fundamental as part of the University’s response to repeated calls to prioritize nursery provision. Whilst we are disappointed the opportunity to speak on this topic was not taken at the originally scheduled Discussion on 1 May, we are nonetheless happy to clarify the rationale and purpose behind the location and intention of the Harrison Drive Nursery.



  • * 21 June 2018: The name of the group to whom the Concept Design was presented was incorrectly stated and has now been corrected in both the online and pdf versions of the Reporter.

Dr M. Donaldson (King’s College), read by Dr Sliwa:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, new nursery places are urgently needed, so the proposal to construct a nursery at the Harrison Drive site is welcome. It will go some way to address the pressure on availability of childcare. However, as noted earlier from the published Council minutes, to date the project does not seem to address in any way the related, and equally critical, issue of affordability of childcare. Nor does it make progress on the flexibility required in order for childcare to actually support the demands of academic careers. Indeed, there is some indication that the role of a private provider in financing construction of the nursery may entail fees at the proposed new nursery being even higher than at existing University nurseries, and the University having less control over policies on childcare provision.

On affordability, the crisis around childcare in Cambridge is not just a matter of the ever-increasing share of household income that childcare consumes. It is a problem in absolute terms. Colleagues have reported that between childcare and rent, council tax and bills there is often very, very little left at the end of a month. For others, especially those currently in postdoc and early career positions, the cost of childcare, coupled with low salaries, may mean that academia is simply not a viable career path at all. People who would in other circumstances have promising academic futures are leaving the sector. This exclusion is likely to be felt most acutely by those without significant family wealth, those in single-parent families, and those who are already marginalized in other respects. The equality and diversity implications are obvious.

The first principle of the Athena SWAN Charter is:

1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.

It is hard to believe the University is taking this seriously unless there is a concerted effort to address the massive, and unequally felt, burden of childcare costs.

As the University already recognizes, affordability is also a key issue for the University’s attractiveness as an employer, relative to other universities abroad. On one OECD measure, using 2015 figures, out-of-pocket childcare costs are 41% percent of family net income in the UK. This is the highest percentage on this measure in the OECD; and just under four times the EU average of 11%.1

The salary sacrifice scheme may make University childcare more affordable than childcare elsewhere in the UK, and is clearly valued by University employees, but the picture overall is one in which Cambridge must remain, on childcare alone, far less attractive as an employer than many European universities. Even for those who have the relative good fortune to have permanent posts in Cambridge, the high cost of childcare intersects with a very difficult property market: the cost of childcare weighs heavily in mortgage affordability analyses, and constitutes a further obstacle to ever being able to own a home, even in two-parent families with both parents employed full-time.

On flexibility, colleagues report that there is a serious mismatch between childcare provision even in the University nurseries, and the childcare arrangements that academics actually need to make progress in their careers. Acute competition for places means that children cannot be removed for more than a certain period without the place being lost. Even during the period of absence, parents must pay fees. This creates obvious obstacles for research mobility. Some postdoc and early career arrangements involve working between Cambridge and other institutions, but the inflexibility and unaffordability of childcare in Cambridge means such arrangements can be very difficult to sustain (or researchers may simply abandon the Cambridge limb of their research plans).

This inflexibility also poses major obstacles to sabbaticals and fieldwork – core elements of research and academic life. Travel for sabbaticals and fieldwork may have to be sacrificed altogether, curtailed, or broken up into shorter stays (creating additional travel costs and perhaps limiting its academic benefits). If it is possible at all, this travel becomes prohibitively expensive, as parents must cover childcare in two places. In some cases, grant funding can be used to cover childcare in the destination of travel – but this is funding that is then not available for research assistance, conference travel, supplies, and other things which facilitate research.

Two further principles from the Athena SWAN Charter seem apt here:

2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.

5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.

If the University is indeed committed to these principles, very significant progress is required on availability, affordability, and flexibility of childcare.

One project alone cannot address these challenges. Nevertheless, each expansion of childcare provision should be planned with all these concerns in mind. On the Harrison Drive project and tender, what steps is the University taking to ensure that:

(i)an already untenable cost of childcare will not be further exacerbated as fees rise more rapidly than salaries in the years to come, and the private provider demands a return on initial financing?

(ii)the project leaves the University scope to experiment and innovate in order to make the step changes that are required on affordability and flexibility?


Dr J. Guarneri (Faculty of History and Fitzwilliam College), read by Dr Sliwa:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the University nursery is one of the things I cite when people ask me if I intend to stay at Cambridge for a while (since my home country is elsewhere). I have been really happy with the care my son gets there, and the salary sacrifice scheme has made a big difference for us. However, I wish to highlight three areas that could be improved, beyond those already mentioned in the above comments, which I support in full.

The first is the costs for Ph.D. students. While 20 places at West Cambridge are reserved for the children of students, those students are offered no salary sacrifice scheme at all. I know that Ph.D. students at the nursery sometimes enrol their child for three rather than five days a week due to the cost, which makes it extremely difficult to carve out enough time in the week to focus on their degree.

The second issue is, as mentioned briefly in prior comments, the regressive nature of the sacrifice scheme. A Ph.D. student pays the full cost, which this year is £1,002.29 per month for full-time care. I, as a lecturer with some College income from supervising and directing studies, see my paycheck reduced by around £700 per month, due to the sacrifice scheme – this is the cost to me. A Reader with equivalent College income (and there are Readers at the University with small children, more often men than women for obvious biological-clock reasons) would see their paycheck reduced by around £581 per month, on the sacrifice scheme – this is the cost to them. I realize that this is a government-run programme, but the University of Cambridge could rectify these skewed costs by subsidizing childcare costs for both students and staff.

Finally, I would add that the University needs to be concerned about the quality of the jobs being offered by the new nursery. Childcare is a notoriously underpaid industry, and it has become clear to me that West Cambridge relies disproportionately on young women who can only manage on the salaries offered by the nursery because they live at home with their parents. Childbase was recently listed at number 58 in the The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For 2018,1 but the listing revealed that 96% of the company’s employees make less than £35,000 per year.

I have been very happy with the care our son gets at West Cambridge, and am glad that the University recognizes the demand for more nursery spaces. I hope, though, that the University will begin to see childcare as a fundamental building block for student and staff quality of life (as well as an essential tool for recruiting and retaining women students and staff), rather than viewing it as another revenue stream.

Professor E. V. Ferran (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations, and St Catharine’s College), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, childcare in Cambridge is expensive and scarce with long nursery waiting lists of often a year or more. This is a problem that the University must actively seek to address in order to attract and retain staff. Workplace nurseries represent a great employee benefit because staff can pay for the full value of the nursery fees via the Workplace Nurseries Salary Exchange Scheme and make significant tax and National Insurance savings. Demand for University nursery places significantly outstrips our current capacity and the proposed new nursery building on Harrison Drive will make a very welcome contribution to reducing waiting lists.

Parents manage childcare arrangements in all kinds of ways, and often parents share these responsibilities. However, it is still the case that family responsibilities tend to be more disruptive for women’s careers than for those of men. Women employees at the University of Cambridge earn on average 19.6% less than men. At the current rate of progress it will take 45 years to close the gap entirely and achieve gender pay equality at Cambridge. This situation does not reflect the University’s values of freedom from discrimination, recognition and reward of its staff as its greatest asset, encouragement of career development for all staff, and freedom of thought and expression. The gender pay gap results from a myriad of cultural, structural, historical, and societal factors, making it a complex problem to solve. Overall there is a tendency for men to be concentrated at more senior grades on average compared to women (vertical segregation) and within disciplines, staff categories and occupations associated with higher rates of pay (horizontal segregation). Access to affordable childcare can have a large effect on vertical segregation as it provides women with the means to maintain their career and progress to more senior levels.

The University is committed to active interventions that will accelerate the closing of the gender pay gap. This is a further reason why I am so supportive of the proposal for a new nursery.

Professor F. E. Karet (University Council, School of Clinical Medicine, and Darwin College), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as the School of Clinical Medicine’s Director of Organizational Affairs, with responsibility for workplace culture affecting over 2,700 University Staff on the Biomedical Campus. I am also a member of the University’s Nursery Project Board.

The need for a new nursery on the south side of the city is unarguable: firstly, current University provision can never meet demand for places; and secondly, more than a quarter of University staff work on sites south of the railway station, yet the nearest University childcare provision is at Chaucer Road with other provision much further away. The attendant extra travel to any of the University’s nurseries adds a significant time requirement for staff who use them at each end of the day.

In 2015, the Clinical School’s triennial staff survey was answered by 78% of all our staff. 431 of respondents (18.5% of the total employee number at that point) said they had children. Of these 431, only 22% said they were satisfied with childcare provision. This compares even less favourably with our 2012 survey where only 27% of respondents to this question answered positively.

Furthermore, the childcare survey conducted in 2016 by the Cambridge Centre for Housing concluded overall that after allowing for the existing University nurseries, the potential existing demand for (workplace) nursery provision would require an additional three or four to serve the Biomedical Campus, excluding any existing or future provision for the staff of Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

In fact, the School has grown from some 1,800 staff in 2012 to 2,400 in 2015 to its current size of over 2,700 – about 23% of University Staff – mainly because of incorporation of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and five MRC units into the University. We have welcomed this growth, as it has added both scientific and personnel diversity. However, this has not been accompanied by any increase in childcare provision other than the recent offer to staff of membership in ‘My Family Care’, an organization that can offer short-term emergency childcare sessions in situations such as illness.

By extrapolation from our staff statistics, some 550 of our current staff have childcare needs. A breakdown in childcare arrangements is the highest cause of unscheduled absence for working parents. If staff have access to reliable childcare they are likely to take fewer days’ unscheduled leave, are more likely to be focused at work, and less likely to experience negative effects on wellbeing such as stress.

An additional benefit of proximity of childcare to the workplace means the parent is immediately on hand if there are problems such as the child falling ill, and this is recognized as particularly important to parents who work outside traditional ‘core’ hours (such as most scientists and clinicians), or work flexibly, something the School is keen to promote since it is known to increase staff satisfaction, retention, and productivity. In addition, many of our staff cannot afford to live in Cambridge, so accessibly located near-workplace childcare is the only feasible means of returning to work after a career break.

We are working hard on strategies to mitigate our gender pay gap and diminish the well-recognized ‘leakiness’ of the career pipeline that particularly affects women. To this end, better provision of childcare to all members of the University should mean that our female staff become less likely to step off the career ladder or not return at all after having children.

The several years that the Nursery Project Board has been in existence speak to the care with which the current proposal has been considered. This new nursery is urgently needed; without it, recruitment and retention of staff in a diverse manner are threatened.

Dr J. Waldie (Department of Physics), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I make these remarks in my capacity as the Welfare Officer for the Postdocs of Cambridge Society, the Co-Chair of the Cavendish Laboratory Research Staff Committee, and a member of the Institute of Physics Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

The three existing University nurseries – at Edwinstowe Close, West Cambridge, and Eddington, which is to open later this year – have a total of 267 places. In 2016 the University had 11,147 staff, meaning there is one University nursery place for every 42 staff. The waiting list for a University nursery place is at least 100 long, and staff on fixed-term contracts may be on the waiting list for their whole time in Cambridge without getting a place. Private nurseries in and around Cambridge are also often heavily oversubscribed. Struggling to find a nursery place adds considerable stress to the already frantic process of starting a family or moving to a new place.

The cost of childcare is expensive. The monthly cost of a full-time University nursery place is currently £1,002.29. Private nurseries are usually more expensive. The typical annual salary of a postdoctoral research associate, before tax and National Insurance is approximately £30,000 (spine point 40 in August 2017 is £30,688 per annum). This results in a take-home pay of about £2,000 per month. Even with government assistance schemes, this means a significant fraction of the salary of a postdoc parent is spent on childcare. Housing and the cost of living in Cambridge are also very high compared to the salaries of many University employees.

Staff with places in the University nurseries can use the Workplace Nurseries Salary Exchange Scheme to pay nursery fees, meaning that they save the equivalent income tax and National Insurance (approximately 30%). Staff whose children attend other nurseries can only use the more limited Tax-Free Childcare scheme, which covers 20% of their childcare costs, provided their childcare provider is signed up for the scheme. Therefore providing more places in the University nurseries is one way the University could help its staff with the exorbitantly high cost of childcare.

There are other advantages to getting a place for your child in a University nursery. The opening hours are relatively long compared to some nurseries (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), which helps given the long-hours working culture in many areas of the University. For staff based close to the existing nurseries it is helpful to have the nursery nearby. Nurseries provide a great way for families to get to know one another, and this forms a key network for many staff who are parents. Being able to meet others who are struggling to balance the pressures of academia/research with family life is very much appreciated by staff who do get places in the University nurseries.

The provision of a nursery on the south side of Cambridge would be very welcome, given that recent years have seen a huge increase in the numbers of University staff based at the Biomedical Campus.

This University aspires to be world-leading in teaching and research. It seeks to attract talented individuals from all over the world and it must present an attractive offer to the brightest and the best. This includes providing a supportive environment for the family they bring with them or the family they may hope to start while in Cambridge. Many staff in the University are far from their own parents and extended families and employed on short-term contracts. Providing good quality childcare near the workplace, alongside other families in similar circumstances, can give a huge boost to these staff.

The lack of appropriate childcare often, though not always, has a disproportionate effect on women. The University’s 2014 Athena SWAN application proclaims the University of Cambridge’s ‘longstanding commitment to progressing gender equality’. It is my belief that expanded nursery provision will be a great step towards achieving both gender equality and continued excellence in teaching and research. I therefore support the recommendation of the Report to build this new nursery.


  • *21 June 2018: Amendments have been made to the remarks of Dr Morrison-Helme and Professor Abell on the proposed University nursery building and the online and pdf versions updated accordingly.