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In support of early years childcare

Five new professors

Professor Catherine Holmes at 1980-1983 Gaudy, Photo: Ian Wallman

I arrived at Univ as a History tutor in 2001 when I was in my early 30s. Since that time, I have enjoyed two wonderful decades, tutoring undergraduates, supervising graduates, and researching medieval history. In those years I have also been lucky enough to have two children. It is as a parent and as a College tutor that I am writing to explain why the plans for a nursery at Univ North are so important and exciting.

Although the past eighteen months have been unbelievably busy as we have tried to sustain the Univ community under pandemic conditions, I have also found myself reflecting on my two decades at the College, and thinking about those with whom I have shared my time here: students, colleagues and, of course, my own family. There are so many people who have made it possible for me to hold a tutorial fellowship at Univ; and yet, as I look back, I realise that no-one has been more significant than the remarkably dedicated nursery staff who cared for my two children in their pre-school years.

My children are now at school, and it is easy to forget the importance of those nursery years. But put quite simply, without the devotion and expertise of those nursery workers, I would not have been able to continue as a Univ tutor. Even getting my children into a reliable nursery setting in Oxford was an uncomfortably close-run thing. When my two children were born, waiting lists for nurseries across the city were epic in length. On both occasions I came close to not being able to resume my academic responsibilities when my parental leave ended. Serendipity won out: something came up on both occasions. But that was phenomenally lucky. I know of at least one colleague at Univ who initially had to return to work part-time because she was unable to find full-time nursery provision.

Univ North NurseryI have rehearsed these personal details because my experiences are not unique, nor are they a thing of the past. Parents at Univ come from all sections of our College community: students, academics and non-academic staff members, and most have encountered many of the childcare uncertainties that I have outlined. For early career scholars, students and new staff these uncertainties can be career-defining and career-inhibiting; in some cases, they have been career-ending. And, given the demand for nursery places across Oxford, it is clear that until we have our own nursery, such uncertainties will continue to be a feature of life for parents and would-be parents at the College.

The main reason, then, why I am so committed to the nursery at Univ North is that it has the potential to help any Univ member to enter parenthood confident that they can study, teach, research and work at the College while also seeing their children grow up in the most supportive and stimulating environment possible. Our own nursery will also mean that those offered student places or employment at Univ will not turn us down because of a lack of childcare. We know that the availability of childcare is one of the main issues on which the acceptance or rejection of academic posts at Oxford can turn.

In addition, the nursery will enable Univ parents to feel part of the wider College community, an objective which is paramount to Univ’s mission of inclusivity and excellence. During those pre-school years, many students and staff are likely to have less time and flexibility to take part in other college activities, such as dinners or seminars; but a nursery can act as an alternative and affirming environment for social interaction with other college members. One of my Univ colleagues whose children were at another college nursery has told me that during those nursery years she felt as much a part of that college as Univ. Engaging with other nursery parents was a source of huge support and friendship; many of those friendships with students and staff continue some seven years on. The creation of a similar network of support within Univ will provide yet another opportunity to enrich the fabric of our community.

Univ North NurseryI am also convinced that the nursery will not just benefit those Univ members who are parents but the College community more generally. None of the students studying History at Univ between 2006 and 2017 ever met those nursery staff outside Univ who looked after my children: that is a pity, not least because those students owe at least a small part of their degrees to those nursery workers. Things could be different in the future. Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects of the Univ North nursery is that it will be located within the College itself. Not only will this make Univ North a multi-generational community (a publicly acknowledged ‘good’), it also means that students of the future will be conscious of the integral roles of parenting and childcare in the forging of careers and pursuit of excellence, surely an important insight to take into lives beyond university.

The development of a nursery at Univ North is a very exciting prospect for the College as a whole, but in order to make childcare provision as accessible and helpful as possible, particularly for those Univ parents at the start of their academic careers, we are establishing an endowed fund. Potential uses of the fund might include fee reductions for student parents, or small grants to early career and graduate researchers to pay for childcare while attending significant events such as conferences and workshops.

I realise that the complex and sometimes competing imperatives of family, careers and childcare are not unique to academic life; I also realise that such imperatives do not touch everyone equally either at College or beyond. But if you are able to assist us with a gift of whatever you can afford, then you will be helping the College make good on its longstanding and widely praised commitment to scholarly excellence in an inclusive and supportive community.

Professor Catherine Holmes
A D M Cox Old Members’ Tutorial Fellow in Medieval History


Illustration © Layn Marlow

With your support we can give the Univ community the resources to offer the very best academic and collegiate experience.

Details on how to make a gift, can be found here.

All gifts to the Early Years Support Fund will be considered by the College for recognition on the Univ North site. For full recognition FAQs please contact Development@univ.ox.ac.uk.

Please join us in helping the Univ community flourish, enabling and supporting academic excellence.

Published: 1 December 2021

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