Veterinary organisations write to universities minister over student cap concerns

Letter was written in response to the announcement that the Government would be introducing a temporary cap on student numbers during the coronavirus pandemic

19 May 2020, at 12:00pm

The regulator of the UK veterinary professions (the RCVS), the representative body for UK vets (the BVA), and the body representing the eight accredited UK veterinary schools (the Veterinary Schools Council) have written a joint letter to the Government over their concerns about the recently announced plans to cap student numbers at UK universities.

The letter, addressed to Michelle Donelan MP, the Minister of State for Universities at the Department of Education, was written in response to the announcement (made on 4 May) that the Government would be introducing a temporary cap on student numbers as part of measures to support the Higher Education sector during the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter requests that the UK’s veterinary schools be exempted from those measures because of the need to greatly increase the number of UK graduates. There is currently a shortage of veterinary surgeons in the UK (of between 11 and 13 percent). Further, the veterinary sector is currently heavily reliant on veterinary surgeons educated in the European Union. Currently, around 60 percent of those joining the Register of Veterinary Surgeons in a given year are from the EU, and an estimated 95 percent of vets working in the vital public health and food safety sectors are EU-qualified.

It is expected that the coronavirus pandemic and its associated restrictions, both in the UK and EU countries, will see a reduction in the number of EU vets applying to join the Register of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK, meaning that the shortfall is likely to be exacerbated. This would be made even worse if the domestic supply of new veterinary surgeons is reduced because of caps.

The letter, signed by RCVS President Dr Niall Connell, BVA President Daniella Dos Santos and Professor Susan Dawson, Chair of the VSC, says: “It is… critical that we greatly increase the number of graduates from UK veterinary schools in the coming years, supported by appropriate funding, in order to reduce our reliance on overseas graduates and ensure a sufficient workforce to support animal health and welfare and public health. In order to achieve this, student numbers need to be increased (alongside ongoing measures to increase retention rates). A cap on student numbers (even one that allowed a small amount of growth) would therefore be counterproductive. We would be grateful for reassurance that no such cap will be put in place for these (oversubscribed) veterinary degree programmes.”

In addition to asking veterinary courses to be exempted from the student numbers cap, the letter also asks the Government to issue guidance to ensure that the extra funding it will be providing to the Higher Education sector is not used on more “profitable” courses at the expense of courses such as veterinary science.

It adds: “Guidance should encourage universities to focus on growing their veterinary degree courses to address the critical workforce shortage. We also ask that veterinary degrees are included in the recently proposed 5,000 extra places for health sciences.”

The letter has been published on the websites of the RCVS, BVA and the VSC.