- Date 25 Oct 2021
The pandemic and associated lockdowns have had a huge effect on students in a myriad of ways. Within university chemistry departments, one of the main issues has been maintaining the teaching of practical skills. The lockdowns and social distancing regulations made the running of those all-important experimental sessions almost impossible, forcing the majority of departments to adapt their teaching by moving them temporarily online. These virtual practical sessions, whilst ensuring students still managed to engage with the experimental side of the subject, meant that a large number of students missed out on the "hands-on" experience of working in a lab. A recent RSC report concluded: "High-level practical laboratory skills cannot be effectively taught or learned online, and yet they underpin industries key to the UK’s economic recovery and global competitiveness." It went on to suggest 73% of undergraduates identified practical skills as essential for their future employment.
Practical teaching is a crucial component of a chemistry degree. We hear from our stakeholders – universities, students and employers – that laboratory experience remains essential for the future chemistry workforce. This is reflected in our worldwide accreditation programme where practical skills – training future chemists to become adept at finding their way round a chemistry laboratory and carrying out essential practical work in a safe and efficient manner – form one of the key requirements. Imposed lockdowns caused concerns that students would possibly not get exposure to practical skills the profession required. One academic said: "If (undergraduate) students cannot access labs to be trained we risk raising a generation of (lab-)inexperienced chemists that may not be competitive on an international level if other countries manage the pandemic better than the UK."