UNSW has announced that it will close Kanga’s House – an on-campus childcare facility for the children of UNSW students and staff which began operations in 1981 – at the end of 2020, in a letter to Kanga’s House patrons. The university is currently exploring the option of outsourcing the management of its remaining three childcare centres to private operators. This cost-cutting measure comes amid broader financial pressures within the Australian tertiary education sector as a result of COVID-19.
In the letter, Vice-President of Human Resources, David Ward, cites financial losses as the key reason for the announced closure. With a shortfall of $560,000 for 2020 and a forecasted deficit of $600,000, the university has prioritised financial security over the social benefits provided by the UNSW Early Years centres. Despite only 213 of 289 places being filled prior to COVID-19, critics suggest that the facilities have allowed for a more gender-diverse workforce, aiding the career progression of staff and students with children.
“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 wrote.
Questions remain surrounding the retention of staff but in a statement UNSW has declared that it will “seek a commitment from any new provider that they take a majority of current [Kanga’s House] staff who are seeking employment.”
The news follows announcements of cuts to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives at UNSW including the temporary suspension of the Career Advancement Fund, which aided female academics after periods of maternity/adoption leave.
These budgetary measures represent a step backwards for UNSW. In 2018, UNSW was one of fifteen Australian institutions awarded an Athena SWAN Bronze Institution Award for advancing gender equity and diversity in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines.