Earlier this week, the The University Times reported that College cancelled all in-person laboratory practicals for chemical sciences students for the rest of the year, after it was announced that in-person practical classes must be cut to an hour and 45 minutes.
Recently, College also announced that students could book a library slot for a maximum of an hour and 45 minutes. These changes were attributed to HSE restrictions which stated that spending more than two hours in an indoor space with someone who has the coronavirus will “sometimes” count as a close or casual contact.
Of course public health advice needs to come first, but it seems absurd that laboratory classes be cancelled this late in the year: if this was going to be an issue, then why did it not come up in the initial College reopening plans or in the many months since then?
Universities have been given space to make up their own minds about how to run their institutions during the pandemic, but this has left them stuck between being considered essential services and being forced to roll back on the facilities and education they can provide for students.
The cancellation of laboratory practicals for chemical science students is particularly disheartening. Practicals are the bread-and-butter of a science degree. There are surely many science students who picked the subject because of their desire to spend time in a laboratory, only to have that opportunity taken away from them.
Third years who have had the rest of their laboratory classes cancelled will surely have to pay the price in the future as they enter final-year research projects with considerably less laboratory experience.
Consistency in how College deals with students is key. Plenty of other science students are still in laboratory practicals, so what makes chemical science students different? Furthermore, what is the difference between spending an hour and 45 minutes inside with a group of people and spending two hours with those same people? And what has changed in the past week that led College to make this decision?
These questions need to be answered. Otherwise College will simply confuse students and leave them even more demoralised.