University refutes chemistry student complaints

Complaints made to Gair Rhydd from Chemistry students complaining that they “aren’t as competent or confident in the practical work as [they] should be” and that laboratories are “overcrowded” have been strongly refuted by the university, who point to high student satisfaction rates and state there is “no evidence whatsoever” to support the students’ claims.

A student first contacted Gair Rhydd, asking whether “my department is useless” fell under the newspaper’s investigative remit. The student continued: “Our labs are overcrowded, with not enough staff helping and not enough equipment. This really annoys me. This week around 35 students and two demonstrators were walking round [in a practical session].”

According to a University spokesperson, “In laboratory classes there are always sufficient staff present to ensure safe working, as well as to provide full technical and academic support.

“These will generally be a combination of academic staff, technical staff and postgraduate demonstrators, with at least one member of academic staff always present. Typically, this will mean a student:staff ratio of 10:1.”

They continued: “There is no evidence whatsoever to support the suggestion that graduates from the School of Chemistry “aren’t as competent and confident in the practical work as [they] should be.” In the 2015 National Student Survey 94 per cent of the School’s students were satisfied with their overall experience,

“Satisfaction was also very high in the areas of resources and teaching, with achieved rates of 97 and 91 per cent, respectively.”

Responding to further allegations that “four students were jammed to a 1.5m fume hood”, the spokesperson said: “The safety of students and staff in laboratories has the highest priority within the School.

“Students have regular briefings on safety procedures, beginning in their first week at university, and in Year 3 they undertake a risk assessment of each experiment before commencing practical work, which must be counter-signed by a member of staff.

“Four students working in a single fume-hood would only be permitted under exceptional circumstances, and only if the laboratory supervisor was satisfied that it was safe. This would of course depend on the nature of the experiments that were being carried out.”

While claims of overcrowding have been refuted, class sizes have been growing: third year practical classes have increased from two to three in this academic year, and the average number of students has increased from 27 in the year 2013/14 to 35 students per practical class.

Other students that were approached were unwilling to comment on the allegations and the University spokesperson highlighted how any students should raise their concerns: “Well-established and well-publicised procedures exist to allow students to report concerns they may have regarding any aspect of their course. If a student does not wish to be identified, he/she can approach one of his/her student representatives (who have already been elected for this year).

“Our Undergraduate Student-Staff Panel is an extremely effective body that has contributed greatly in recent years to the improvement of the student experience within the School.”