There have been few departments and services which have emerged unscathed from budget cuts in recent years. Funding for capitated bodies within the College was slashed by 10% last year. The Sports Centre budget has been cut by €136,000. The removal of modules and cuts in staff numbers remains a challenge to the quality of education within Trinity. Following the announcement that Trinity had been ranked at 78 in this year’s QS University Rankings, the Dean of Research John Boland commented: “Trinity’s top 100 position globally and top 30 in Europe is remarkable in the context of its reduced income. Trinity’s annual budget per academic year is 45% lower than that of the average university in the world top 200.”
However, the impact of the budget cuts extends wider still. Nestled in a cosy corner of campus near the health clinic lies the Trinity College Day Nursery. Located in House 49/50, the nursery has consistently felt the damaging and ineluctable effects of budget reductions. Many students remain unaware of such this institution that they perhaps stroll past on a daily basis. The day care centre has been operating within the walls of Trinity since 1969, rendering it the first on-site workplace nursery in Ireland. Only children of students and staff members within the university are permitted to attend. Journalist Carol Hunt is among one of such parents and has spoken highly of the service it provides:
“One of the main reasons why I decided to continue my education was because it enabled me to avail of this wonderful facility, with its meticulous standards, free health care and, last but certainly not least, staff who are both professional and wonderfully caring.”
At present, a maximum of 52 full time places are available and the age of children in attendance ranges from three months to four and a half. The service is well organised, providing rooms suited for use of children of each specific age group, as well as organising a variety of outings for the older children. The nursery, which declined to provide comment for this article, remains an essential service within College. According to its website, their aim is to “provide a homely, caring and stimulating environment for every child.” However, it is clear that achieving this is becoming increasingly difficult.
Reaction from the SU
The funding cuts to the nursery were first brought to student attention by TCDSU President, Lynn Ruane during the second Student Council of the year. Ruane quotes that the cut to the nursery’s funding is 52% of their annual budget and imagines the impact such a substantial cut will have the on the day to day running of the nursery: “The service was already underfunded before the cut so I would imagine it will affect every aspect from wages to the quality of service. It definitely won’t help the already long waiting list. There is always a possibility when a service is cut so much that fees for parents will rise which will have a negative impact on students using service which will hinder them continuing in their course due to affordability.”
So far, there have been no sustained calls from the student body to reverse the downward trend in the nursery’s yearly budget. But Ruane remains optimistic that students can unite to tackle such budget cuts which affect not just the nursery but all student services that currently find themselves in the same precarious position. For Ruane, it has become increasingly evident that student participation is necessary to display any opposition to such reductions in funding for essential student services. She explains: “I would hope that we can bring together all student services that have been cut in the same manner to develop a coordinated response and funding strategy.”
Moreover, Ruane remains adamant that College must make immediate changes to Trinity’s public image they continue to present to prospective students. She fears that such devastating cuts to a vital service for many parents will deter them from making the choice to attend third level education: “We need to rethink what we as a College are offering to prospective students. If we are aiming to be in a college and a society that believes education is for all then we need to be providing the services that allow participation of women, parents and those unable to afford extortionate childcare fees.”
As the children of the nursery enter their last week before the Christmas festivities begin, many of them will no doubt be looking forward to the new term, so that they can be return to their friends and teachers. Just as the children will bring new toys and tales with them into the New Year, the staff working at the nursery will hope that 2016 will bring much needed changes to the funding system currently in place.
Illustration by Nadia Bertaud.