BVA fears new school could create surplus of UK veterinarians

University of Surrey plans to open veterinary school in 2014

November 15, 2012 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

The opening of an eighth veterinary medical program in the United Kingdom (UK) isn’t needed and might generate an oversupply of veterinarians. 

That declaration comes from the British Veterinary Association (BVA), which released a statement Oct. 29 denouncing the 2014 opening of the University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine.

New graduates from the UK’s seven veterinary medical programs — five in England and two in Scotland — already are having a tough time in the job market “with some saying that it takes six to nine months” to find employment, BVA President Dr. Peter Jones said in the statement. 

“The end result (of an eighth program) could be an oversupply of highly qualified veterinary surgeons carrying significant amounts of debt unable to find employment within the profession,” he added. 

The BVA did not provide information about student debt loads in its statement. A 2008 survey conducted by the Association of Veterinary Students, which represents students in the UK and Ireland, indicated that 32.4 percent of 2011 veterinary graduates considered themselves to be in "serious financial difficulties" and expected to incur £29,400 ($46,602) in educational debt.

Across the Atlantic, veterinarians have voiced similar concerns about a perceived oversupply, tightening job market and climbing educational indebtedness. U.S. veterinary students with educational debt average $151,672 in loans upon graduation while mean full-time starting salaries are $65,404 a year for those who do not pursue advance training, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Whether there’s a true oversupply of U.S. veterinarians remains up for debate. An AVMA task force has been charged with analyzing the supply and demand of veterinarians.

In the UK, concerns about market saturation have been voiced by government agencies. Last year, the UK Border Agency removed the veterinary surgeons from its “shortage occupation list,” which is used to guide officials when extending work visas to those migrating from other countries.  

“… We currently have sufficient veterinary surgeons to meet demand. Another veterinary course could tip the balance too far the other way,” the BVA's Jones said. 

Officials with the BVA did not respond to VIN News Service requests to elaborate on the association's stance.

University of Surrey officials also did not answer VIN News Service questions. A university press release described the new veterinary school as “world class,” embracing a One Health philosophy that focuses on ties between human and veterinary medicine.

It’s the first veterinary medical program in South East England, “perfectly placed geographically to provide a veterinary education fitting for the 21st Century,” Dr. Andy Durham of Liphook Equine Hospital stated in the university’s press release. 

Durham’s practice is one of several “key partners” that’s signed on to help educate students. It’s unclear whether a traditional veterinary teaching hospital will be built on the University of Surrey’s campus or an alternative clinical educational model is being implemented. The distributive model, for example, involves students rotating through private practices to develop their clinical acumen. 

The university also did not relay how many seats will be available to veterinary students. 

Nearly 16,000 veterinarians reported practicing some form of clinical medicine in the UK as of March 2012, according to figures released by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), a regulatory and licensing agency. That's a 3.5 percent increase in veterinary clinicians since March 2011, and an increase of nearly 19 percent in five years. In 2007, RCVS reported that 13,380 veterinarians practiced clinical medicine in the UK. 

The total number of RCVS registrants was 18,413 in 2012. That figure encompasses all sectors employing veterinarians: academia, private practice, research, government, industry and others. In 2007, the number of registrants was 15,761.

Dr. Stijn Niessen, a specialist in small animal internal medicine and lecturer at The Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, believes it would be prudent for the profession to objectively assess the number of new graduates needed each year to avoid flooding the market. 

“We have a moral duty to our students and to ourselves to ensure that the profession they aspire to belong to is one in good health once they have graduated until they retire,” Niessen said by email. “Especially now that tuition fees have gone up in the UK, the worst thing that could happen would be for vet students to end up with severe debt and a below-par paid job, or worse, no job. Although a limit to the number of graduates will mean some cannot fulfill their dream of becoming a veterinarian, it would be worse if we allow our profession to become degraded.” 

He added: “We have a beautiful profession. We need to take care of it for the next generation.” 


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