Veterinary college wants to spread its animal magic around the world

Expansion into China and India will help to meet the demand for vets worldwide. Jack Grove reports

June 21, 2012

The principal of Britain’s largest veterinary college has spoken about plans to develop new partnerships and research collaborations in China and India.

Stuart Reid, head of the Royal Veterinary College, said that he was working to set up international partnerships to offer courses endorsed by his institution.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Professor Reid said the foreign teaching centres could be vital in meeting the growing demand for veterinary health experts across the world.

"It sounds grand, but someone needs to do this," said Professor Reid. "The world needs to double food production in the coming years. Whether it is in research or out in the field, you will need vets to do that."

He said the college would look to develop projects in parts of India and China where it already had research partnerships, and that it would also interact with governments and intergovernmental organisations.

His comments come at a time when the UK government is actively promoting more partnerships overseas, with universities and science minister David Willetts making a key speech on the subject this week at Stanford University in the US.

Professor Reid, who took over the college in 2010, said his institution's income had been largely unaffected by higher tuition fees or the crackdown on student visas in the UK, with two applicants still fighting for every place.

However, he said that overseas provision was a logical step because the college was unable to grow its undergraduate numbers owing to infrastructure and budget constraints. Professor Reid also felt that taking on extra veterinary students in the UK would be morally wrong when there might not be enough jobs for them on graduation.

"We could create some attractively titled courses and fill them easily, but they would not lead to the careers students had imagined. We have a duty to our profession not to produce too many graduates," he said. "However, there is room for growth for our nursing and biological veterinary sciences. We are also looking to grow our graduate school."

Another unusual challenge facing Professor Reid is how to recruit more men into veterinary medicine. Of the aspiring vets at the college, 77 per cent are female, as are 92 per cent of veterinary nurses.

He said that in the past men were inspired by the "Herriot effect", referring to the creator of All Creatures Great and Small. But more recently the "Trude effect" - a result of the fame of television vet Trude Mostue - has caused a spike in female applicants.

"We have to make sure we don't have a gender gap. It's fine at a teaching level, but it can become an issue later when a big proportion of your workforce is part-time," he said.

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