A joint lobbying effort by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) has seen the Department of Education add veterinary medicine to the list of subjects that can apply for additional student places if needed.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Education had announced that it would be placing a cap on the number of student places at universities in England. As a result of this decision, the three organisations wrote to Michelle Donelan MP, the Minister of State for Universities, in May to express their concerns over the plans and its potential impact on veterinary medicine degrees in England and the veterinary workforce.
The letter outlined the fact that there is evidence that there is already a shortage of veterinary surgeons in the UK, with overseas veterinary surgeons (the vast majority of whom are from the EU) filling in this shortfall by making up over half of new registrants in a given year.
It stated that the coronavirus pandemic was likely to severely stymie the flow of EU registrants, particularly in the context of the UK leaving the European Union, and that any cap placed on the six universities in England offering veterinary medicine degrees would further diminish ‘home-grown’ veterinary capacity.
As a result the Department of Education, in its Introduction of Temporary Student Number Controls in Response to COVID-19 document published this month, confirmed that veterinary medicine was amongst a number of subjects for which course providers in England, if needed, could apply to the Department for Education for a share of 5,000 additional places it has made available.
Professor Susan Dawson, Dean of Liverpool Vet School, Chair of the Veterinary Schools Council and a member of RCVS Council, was one of the co-signatories of the letter. She said: “We are very glad that the combined efforts of the regulator and the representative bodies for veterinary surgeons and veterinary schools respectively, was able to sway the Government to grant veterinary courses in England access to this additional allocation of student places.
“The coronavirus has had an obvious and understandable impact on the number of EU veterinary surgeons choosing to live and work here. Combined with continued uncertainty over the status of the Brexit trade talks and the future of the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive, we were looking at a potential ‘perfect storm’ situation with the addition of caps on the number of student vets in the UK.
“We thank the Department of Education and the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for listening to our concerns and making the changes to allow vet schools in England to apply for extra places accordingly. It should be noted, however, that there are only 5,000 places available amongst a number of subjects and that there is no guarantee that individual courses/ institutions in England will get additional places allocated even if they apply.
“We also call on the government to ensure that the expansion of domestic student numbers is supported by appropriate funding, otherwise any additional students will reduce the amount available to spend per student and therefore may not be viable.”
BVA President, Daniella Dos Santos added: “It is encouraging to see that the Government has listened to our concerns and enabled veterinary schools in England to access additional student places amid its decision to apply a temporary cap on student numbers. Access to additional places for vet schools will help to mitigate any negative impact that the pandemic may have on student numbers, which in turn would exacerbate the shortage of veterinary surgeons there already is in the UK.
“Vets play an essential role in safeguarding animal health and welfare in the UK and help to make sure animal products are safe to enter the food chain. We are delighted with this decision and want to thank the Department of Education and the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for taking our call on board and making these changes. It is vital that any increased places are also matched with increased per-capita funding to safeguard the high educational standards of the UK’s veterinary schools.”
The full version of the letter written to Michelle Donelan MP has been published on the RCVS website.