College admits rejected applicants if they pay five times the fee

Saskatchewan veterinary college says move has been forced on it by limits on public funding

February 5, 2020
Giant Canadian dollar coin
Source: Reuters

A Canadian veterinary college is offering rejected applicants the chance to gain admission if they agree to pay vastly higher tuition fees.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine will offer as many as 25 failed applicants the opportunity to enrol this autumn if they pay about C$60,000 (£34,566), a great deal more than the usual C$12,000 their classmates will be charged.

The college regards the idea as a compromise forced on it by limits on public funding and the recognition that the students it turns away would likely pay as much or more to attend veterinary school overseas.

“This isn’t necessarily our first choice,” said Douglas Freeman, the college’s dean. “There’s pluses and minuses, but there are students out there that want to become veterinarians.”

Outside experts saw it as the latest evidence of Canadian public higher education’s slide into privatisation.

“It is hard not to see this as both a dangerous precedent and decidedly un-Canadian in spirit,” said Glen Jones, professor of higher education at the University of Toronto.

“Sadly, this is the logical – if the most brazen I’ve seen to this point – extension of the pay-to-play model of post-secondary education,” said Erika Shaker, director of education and outreach at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Veterinary medicine is expensive to teach, Professor Freeman said, because students need skilled professional tutors, surgery suites and laboratories, and a range of other materials and supplies.

Western College has historically been subsidised in its endeavour by the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, each of which gets a share of the 80 freshman slots designated each year for their residents. But Alberta is pulling out this coming academic year, redirecting its funding to the veterinary school at the University of Calgary.

Western College began last year to prepare for the seats to be left empty by Alberta by sending a questionnaire asking its hundreds of rejected students if they would consider enrolling at the C$60,000 rate – a figure that Professor Freeman said approached the non-subsidised cost to the college and was similar to what foreign students pay at other Canadian veterinary schools. “About 150 wrote back and said ‘yes’, they would,” he said.

Professor Freeman acknowledged that the situation had led to some difficult discussions within the provincial governments that support Western College. Even with the current annual tuition charge of about C$12,000, Western students carry an average debt of about C$70,000 to C$80,000 when they complete their undergraduate and veterinary school years, an amount roughly equivalent to the average annual starting salary in their profession.

“A 1:1 ratio of student debt to starting salary is very manageable,” Professor Freeman said. Paying C$60,000 a year for four years could be much tougher, he conceded.

But there is strong demand for veterinarians across western Canada, and a C$60,000 price tag for tuition remained attractive when the chief alternatives were distant locales in Europe, Australia and the Caribbean, where costs would be at least the same if not greater, he said.

For autumn 2020, Professor Freeman continued, Western College planned to accept between 10 and 25 students at the higher tuition rate. It will not be able to accept international students, he said, because of the 18-month process required for international applicants to get student visas in Canada. However, for the autumn of 2021, the college might begin including some foreign students in the non-subsidised slots, he said.

All students taking non-subsidised places will still have to meet the course’s minimum entry requirements.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Why not raise the fees to all students: surely that is more fair than making some pay more than others? A veterinarian is entering a relatively well-paid profession after all, so ought to be in a position to repay the loan.
Interesting is charging higher any different than providing academic scholarships to the top students, many of which are funded by the faculty or University. Net result is some pay more and some pay less. Would charging everyone 60,000 and giving those above a academic cut-off level a scholarship of $48,000 make it sound fairer.

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