ABU DHABI // Universities are being urged to provide childcare and nursing facilities for students and staff to encourage women into higher education. No university offers any kind of facility at present for working mothers or those in full-time study.
Dr Dan Johnson, the provost of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, said: "We know it's high on the students' list. "Students desperately need a place they can bring their children to. I think it would increase the number of students. I'm routinely getting a note or call about the need for childcare facilities. "We're working on building facilities for this now with the municipality. It's on track, but we've had some delay in Dubai. The new campus in Abu Dhabi will have this facility and will accommodate significant numbers. The issue will be the staffing of it. We've yet to plan that."
Dubai and Sharjah Women's Colleges are leading the way, with plans just approved to build childcare centres. The Dubai Women's College Early Childhood Education Centre, part of the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), will soon have the capacity for up to 150 children of nursery and kindergarten ages. It will also serve as an observation, research and teaching practice facility for students and staff. It will be aimed primarily at serving the needs of Dubai Women's College (DWC) student mothers and others in the college community.
The facility is in the early stages of design but building will begin later this year. Facilities will also allow staff and faculty to return to work after the conclusion of their maternity leave. Rafia Tahnoon, 23, an Emirati mature student, has a two-year- old son. Still in her foundation year at DWC, she plans to major in education. "I take my child every morning to my mother-in-law's house before going to college, and when I finish by mid-afternoon I try to make some time to be with him," she said.
The boy has not had a nanny, but if Ms Tahnoon could put him in a nursery at college she would be able to spend more time with him during her breaks. "It will also help in my studies, because when I go home I cannot study much because my son keeps playing with my work and fidgeting with my papers," she said. "Sometimes, when I have projects, I stay in college until the evening and that gives me less time with my child."
Satya Klever, 39, from New Zealand, has three children, the youngest six months. She said child care at work was the best thing for employees and students alike at HCT, where she has studied for seven years. She has already taken her two months maternity leave, but needs to keep working. "The older kids are in school so they're catered for, but with my baby it would be better to have him close by for my own personal comfort," Ms Klever said.
"If we had a facility on campus, I'd be reassured we had qualified personnel, people who know about developmental stages - and that would suit his needs as well as mine, giving me access for breast feeding, especially on days when I'm working long hours." In March, the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) opened a nursing room for its staff on campus. The facility in the private Australian university has been set up to help staff meet the demands of returning to work after childbirth and to provide a facility for those who wish to continue nursing their child.
"The nursing room is one of the several initiatives that UOWD has introduced to become an employer that actively advocates and strives for a healthy work life balance and encourages initiatives that support it," said Raymi van der Spek, the vice president at UOWD. The facility is also available for spouses and students who want to take their children to the university in order to nurse or change them.
Dr Rory Hume, the provost of UAE University, said it was an issue for them and hoped that as their new campus in Al Ain developed, they would be able to offer childcare for staff, faculty and students. "It's terrific for universities to be able to offer childcare," he said. "It's something we'll be working to develop." firstname.lastname@example.org