Plans to close a creche at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster fly in the face of its much-publicised expansion plans.
This is the view of a lobby group campaigning for the retention of the day care nursery at the Derry campus.
‘The Save Our Day Nurseries Campaign’ says the closure proposals appear to be based “purely on financial reasons”.
The group says the nursery’s closure will impact not only on staff and students at Magee but also on the wider economy.
The University of Ulster has announced that the Magee creche - along with a similar facility at its Jordanstown campus - is due to close on July 31. It’s believed at least 30 jobs and dozens of daycare nursery places will be lost.
A spokesperson for ‘The Save Our Day Nurseries Campaign’ told the ‘Journal’ this week: “The Magee day nursery provides approximately 12% of all day nursery places on the cityside of Derry... The nurseries provide a vital, social investment for all our futures. We would appeal to all who can help us save our nurseries to write to University Vice-Chancellor Richard Barnett and ask him to reverse this decision.”
The group also believes that “proper consultation” didn’t take place before the decision to close was made.
The spokesperson said: “Parents and staff have numerous concerns regarding the Equality Impact Assessment and Screening Process which should have included consultations with staff, parents, students, stakeholders, unions and social services - but didn’t. This is a statutory requirement that we feel has not been carried out satisfactorily.”
In response, the University of Ulster issued a statement similar to one it released just days earlier.
In it, a spokesperson said: “The creches at our Magee and Jordanstown campuses are to close from July 31, 2013. Financial support for students and staff requiring childcare services will continue to be available at all campuses.
“Two factors have been crucial in the making of this decision. These facilities have been running at a deficit of over £100,000 per year: in the current financial climate, the University cannot sustain a subsidy of this magnitude.
“Students are minority users of the creches. Of the 25,000 registered students at the University, just 23 use these two creches. This is not a sustainable position. We understand that, for users and staff, this will not be a popular decision and regret that there will be some inconvenience in that existing users will have to make alternative childcare arrangements.
“However, it will be almost six months before the creches close at the end of the academic year and eight months until students begin the new academic year in late September 2013. Our Student Support staff are available to help students at Magee and Jordanstown find alternative childcare providers and, to that end, we are compiling a register of suitable alternative providers.”
Meanwhile, local SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey says the closure move “beggars belief”.
“I have received correspondence from UU’s Vice Chancellor to say that the proposed closures will not be halted despite the involvement of the Assembly’s Employment and Learning Committee,” he said.
“I will be pursuing the matter through the Committee. It is imperative that we save jobs and the provision for those that need it. It beggars belief that we are fighting for more resources for the university in Derry and, yet, the university is seeking to close a vital service and make people redundant.”
Trade union Unison has pledged to continue fighting the proposal.
A spokesperson said: “We have won this battle before, when the university announced similar plans two years ago, and we will do so again. The jobs of 30 employees are at risk and we intend to fight for our members.”