Veterinary courses granted ability to apply for extra student places

Industry lobbying has seen veterinary medicine added to a 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.

However, the veterinary profession has now been added to a list which can request extra places, should it be necessary.

It means course providers in England, if needed, can apply to the Department for Education for a share of 5,000 additional places it has made available.

As a result, the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) wrote to Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities to express their concerns over the plans and its potential impact on veterinary medicine degrees in England and the veterinary workforce.

The letter explained there is already a shortage of veterinary surgeons in the UK, with overseas veterinary surgeons (the vast majority of whom are from the EU) making up over half of new registrants each year.

It stated that on one hand, the coronavirus pandemic was likely to severely stymie the flow of EU registrants, particularly in the context of the UK leaving the European Union. While on the other, any cap placed on the six universities in England offering veterinary medicine degrees would further diminish ‘home-grown’ veterinary capacity.

Prof. Susan Dawson, dean of Liverpool Vet School, chairman 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 or 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.”