I read with surprise another university is seeing fit to build a new veterinary school, making that eight in the UK. The press release was full of all the right words and catchphrases – one medicine, state-of-the-art, research-led, and so on – but long term, I worry.
Vets have been taken off the “skilled professionals we need” list for immigration. There isn’t a shortage of vets in this country.
So I do find myself asking if there is a need for another vet school with a different approach? Is this truly a different approach, or just putting what has already been happening into words? My initial answer to those questions is “no” and “just putting it into words”.
I think this comes at a very bad time for the profession. We are in the grip of a recession with no signs yet of a real recovery; even when things start to get better, I suspect that after the “credit crunch” many people (public, businesses, and practices) are going to be saving rather than spending for a while.
For the next few years, maybe longer, the number of vets needed can only remain static or fall. Exit from the profession by retirement may drop slightly as some souls have to keep working later with poor pension rates and performance. Now they’re increasing the number of new vets entering the profession with a new vet school.
Now one extra vet school probably won’t upset the balance much (but that’s two new vet schools already this century), although one naturally speculates as to the motivations for a university starting a vet school in the absence of urgent demand; is it a noble pursuit to add a centre of excellence of learning and research hitherto unavailable? The other seven schools seem to be doing just fine. Each one has its respective strengths and weaknesses. Or is there a need to augment university income with student fees and research grants? It could be both, of course. To my knowledge, there is nothing stopping further vet schools being started over the coming decades.
Long term, I think we could be looking at that most dangerous of situations; having a surplus of vets.
Veterinary medicine is a vocation, a calling, attracting the elite of academia, and it’s not an easily-transferable qualification. It’s not like a pure science degree, for example, where many graduates become accountants, managers, and so on. Vets tend to become vets.
This increase in pressure in the profession will drive salaries down and unemployment up. Some new graduates graduate with debts that result in a sharp intake of breath, and need to be paid off at some point. More vets may also result in more practices. More practices, more competition, more people wanting a slice of the same cake.
I don’t think it is any kind of “doomsday”, but I think it is the start of a slippery slope, and further devalues our profession.