Student parents have criticised Oxford University for failing to provide enough nursery places and childcare support. Oxford’s provision of financial support for student parents ranks well behind several other UK universities, where student unions frequently provide their own financial backing. Queen’s University, Belfast pays 80% of the childcare costs of its students while Keele University pays 85% of the childcare costs of its student parents, charging them only £72 a month. Oxford University nurseries charge students who manage to obtain a place on the system a total of £580 a month.
Student parents have criticised University nurseries for not being flexible to accommodating their academic timetables. Parents who want to leave their children in nursery care also face waiting lists of up to twenty-four months.The University has three nurseries of its own, providing a combined total of 161 places, as well as 58 subsidized places in private nurseries. Currently, there are 285 children waiting to receive places at these facilities and there is a typical waiting period of between one and two years. Childcare provision and support varies dramatically from college to college. 23 colleges that contributed to the building of two of these University nurseries are also given the right to place one student or staff member on a ‘priority list’. Another four colleges are privileged enough to have their own College nurseries, containing ten to 30 places each, which are cheaper alternatives to the University childcare centres. However Somerville, St Anne’s, Balliol, and Wolfson’s nurseries give priority to their College’s own staff and members, and their facilities have been criticised for poor standards of service. Kerri Hamberg, a D. Phil student with a child at Somerville’s college nursery told Cherwell that the college nursery was not as good as private nurseries outside of the city centre. “The nursery is small and oversubscribed, has limited hours (9 to 5, which makes working a full day at an office impossible), and the cost is quite high given my earning potential here. Some of the city centre nurseries I’ve visited recently are also not up to scratch; all the adequate childcare centres appear to be beyond the ring road in the villages around the city.” OUSU has said that it lacks representation on the University committee responsible for allocating funding to different schemes. Hannah Roe, OUSU Vice-President for Women, said, “OUSU VP (Women) has the responsibility of supporting student parents and representing their views to the University. However, it’s hard to address these issues at the University level, especially when OUSU doesn’t even have student representation on the Planning Resources Allocation Committee.” Roe warns that unless the University invests in childcare provision and support, it will lose out to Ivy League universities.  “Oxford needs to realise that it is competing on the international market for graduate students and academics. Currently, it’s losing.” “Oxford can’t continue to live in a world where graduates and academics having childcare responsibilities is a novelty. This isn’t just about a ‘culture’ change. It’s not just about writing some guidelines. Oxford’s greatest academic rivals like M.I.T. and Princeton are outperforming us in childcare, investing serious cash in nurseries and relief funds.”One graduate student said that Oxford had been extremely unhelpful when she faced difficulties, telling her that hardship grants were for “extreme cases of financial hardship” only. Claire Fernandez was reading for a D. Phil when her funding body’s research grant ran out during her maternity leave. When the funding body refused to extend the grant, she turned to the University for help. Fernandez said: “The University Union and Graduate Office provided no relief whatsoever when I contacted them while I was pregnant and they were not interested in providing any useful advice or support. They just referred me to my college.”