UNSW Sydney announces childcare closure arising from financial impact of COVID-19

by Freya Lucas

May 27, 2020

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney has announced the closure of one of it’s childcare services, Kanga’s House, and is “exploring the options” available for the remaining three education and care services it operates, in response to what a spokesperson from the University described as the “significant impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial position of the institution. 

 

A letter from David Ward, Vice President of Human Resources at UNSW, was sent to parents of Kanga’s House yesterday, outlining that even before the onset of COVID-19, the university’s Early Years centres were operating at a loss, with deficits of more than $560,000 budgeted for 2020 and $600,000 for 2021.

 

“There are many reasons for these deficits, including increased competition in the local area, loss of some government grants, high fees which have affected demand, significant costs for maintenance and upgrades of facilities, and increasing staffing costs,” Mr Ward said.

 

“Having reviewed the operations of the UNSW Early Years centres, the university’s management board has confirmed that in the current circumstances, an ongoing deficit of this magnitude is no longer sustainable for UNSW.”

 

In 2020 the University as a collective is projecting a loss of up to $600 million, with revenue shortfalls of over $400 million anticipated in 2021 and 2022, a statement provided by UNSW indicated. 

 

A review of all operational expenses, undertaken as part of the measures in response, has found that there is a “declining demand for childcare” at the University – a perspective which has been vigorously challenged by academics and other staff who use the services

 

Associate Professor Caroline Ford, a UNSW academic, and a parent who uses the services of Kanga’s House said that the availability of on campus childcare has been a “key enabler” of the progress of female staff at the University. 

 

“A key point about the centres being owned and operated by UNSW has been the retention, expertise and loyalty of the early childhood educators themselves. Many of the incredible staff that have taught my two children at Kanga’s have been there for more than 20 years,” Associate Professor Ford said. 

“These centres can not only be judged on their impact on the budget bottom line” she continued. “They should be seen as what they truly are – key enablers of career progression for UNSW staff, and a critical component of addressing our still significant equity gap for women at UNSW.”

Associate Professor Gemma Carey, author and research director for the UNSW Centre for Social Impact (CSI), an independent, not-for-profit research centre focused on improving outcomes for Australia’s disadvantaged people, touched on the disproportionate implications of the closure to female workforce participation, saying that universities have never been so important. 

“You want a vaccine? Fund us. Things can’t stay the same, but we are seeing cuts that hit the most vulnerable (casuals) and will exclude women from science (eg childcare cuts, gender equity policies being slashed).”

A statement from UNSW confirmed that a tender process for operation of the remaining three UNSW services has been released to market, requesting expressions of interest from appropriate providers. As part of this process, UNSW outlined that they would “seek a commitment” from any new provider that “they take a majority of current staff who are seeking employment”.

 

“The University is committed to students and staff who have children at the centres and will work with families and childcare staff to ensure as little disruption as possible, including ensuring that all children at Kanga’s House are able to transition to another centre at UNSW over the course of 2020,” the statement concluded. 

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