New vet schools are not needed in the UK was the conclusion of a contentious debate held by members at the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) Congress last month. More than 70% of voters disagreed with the debate motion this house believes that new vet schools will benefit equine veterinary practice in the UK. This result reflects a recent industry survey indicating that up to five times as many veterinary graduates may be seeking work in equine practice as there are jobs available.


Chris Proudman, founding head of Surrey University's new School of Veterinary Medicine and Mark Bowen, Associate Professor of Veterinary Internal Medicine at the University of Nottingham's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, advocated that new UK vet schools are important for the advancement of the profession.


"New UK vet schools will benefit the profession by improving the standards of veterinary education and creating what the consumer wants." said Mark Bowen. He argued that new schools would help improve teaching methods and clinical training, while the resultant smaller class sizes would provide greater opportunities for hands on training. Competition would also help to drive up standards and inspire other universities to instigate much-needed changes such as focusing on quality of teaching rather than research.  


Chris Proudman emphasised the flexibility of a new Vet School to be progressive and innovative in both curriculum design and teaching delivery. "Designing a curriculum from scratch allows novel approaches to partnership working and to the One Health agenda," He said. "New schools can deliver veterinary graduates better equipped with the skills and knowledge to be the veterinary leaders of the future."


The proposers also reasoned that if school leavers cannot find a place in a UK vet school they can now attend English language veterinary schools in universities across the EU, many of which do not have European accreditation to ensure standards of education. Therefore the increase in numbers of veterinary graduates is irresistible and the authorities can only influence the numbers trained in the UK and govern the high quality of teaching that is provided in the UK.


Alastair Welch, a partner at Donnington Grove Veterinary Group in Berkshire and Lucy Grieve, vet at Darley Pre-Training in Newmarket, staunchly countered the motion. They maintained that new vet schools would have a detrimental impact on the industry over the longer term and that their introduction demonstrated a slackening of the RCVS's management of the profession.


"Both anecdotal and empirical data suggest that becoming a horse vet has never been harder," pointed out Alastair. "The seemingly endless supply of hard-working, well-qualified school leavers determined to become equine vets provides universities with a reliable income stream for years to come but at what cost? I remain to be convinced that we will not end up educating veterinary graduates who cannot find a position in their intended career."


Lucy contended that it was irresponsible and immoral to allow individuals to commit five or six years, and tens of thousands of pounds, towards a veterinary career without them first being made aware of the limited opportunities available in very popular sectors of the profession such as equine practice.


Paul Jepson, President of BEVA, said: "With more than 70% of voters opposing the motion there is clearly a discernable level of disquiet amongst BEVA members about the current job market in equine practice and the further dilution of opportunities that increased numbers of graduates will create."


To help address the growing challenges faced by new graduates BEVA has recently introduced an Internship Awareness Programme (IAP). The scheme aims to help students and vets navigate the opportunities available as an intern and helps equine veterinary practices to find the most suitable employees for their practice.


The debate can be viewed online for free here.