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A force for veterinary education

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EDUCATION and research are fundamental to the development of the veterinary profession, as recognised by the 2015 Vet Futures report which, in setting out a vision and six key ambitions for the profession for 2030, identified education as a cross-cutting theme (VR, November 21, 2015, vol 177, pp 502, 503-504). Similarly, education is an underlying theme of many of the workstreams outlined in the Vet Futures Action Plan that was launched in July (VR, July 9, 2016, vol 179, p 28). A strategic plan published by the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) last month is relevant to the Vet Futures project, as well as being pertinent in its own right.

The VSC is a relatively new organisation, having been launched in 2014 (VR, November 22, 2014, vol 175, p 497). It aims to promote the views and interests of the UK veterinary schools and is made up of the heads of the seven UK veterinary schools offering RCVS-accredited degrees. It also includes the heads of the veterinary schools at University College Dublin and Utrecht University in the Netherlands as associate members. The strategic plan, covering the years 2016 to 2020,1 is the first to have been published by the VSC. It shows that, at a time when the environment in which they must operate continues to change rapidly, the veterinary schools have formed a clear idea of the specific challenges facing veterinary education, the direction this should take and what, collectively, they hope to achieve.

Ewan Cameron, head of Glasgow veterinary school and chair of the VSC, commented on publication of the document: ‘This strategic plan is the foundation for making UK veterinary schools more collaborative and impactful than they have ever been. This will be essential if we are to navigate the changing landscape and seize the opportunities that will arise. Student experience and widening participation will be key areas for development, and taking forward the vital recommendations of Vet Futures will require coordination across the veterinary schools. Thanks to the excellent work of the committees within VSC we now have a comprehensive platform for progressing these matters, as well as veterinary education and research as a whole.’

The strategic plan sets out the VSC's vision, which is ‘the international recognition of the UK veterinary schools and our associate members for their excellence in education, research and clinical service’, as well as its mission, which is ‘to advocate, challenge and develop excellence in veterinary education, research and clinical service for the benefit of animal health and society’. Its key areas of focus will be: ‘promoting innovative veterinary education and collaboration’; ‘facilitating underpinning science and political engagement’; and ‘monitoring data and best practice’. Core values include working to ensure evidence-based outcomes for veterinary education, valuing and championing diversity, and upholding and promoting the importance of providing veterinary education in a research-rich environment. The council currently has six committees, made up of the leads in each specialist area within each veterinary school. These are a research committee, an education committee, an operations committee, an admissions committee, a clinical committee and an antimicrobial resistance group.

In setting out the VSC's strategy for the next five years, the plan outlines priorities around six main themes: leadership, curriculum and assessment, sustainability and efficiency, recruitment, research, and positions in Europe. Some of these clearly tie in with themes identified during the Vet Futures project; for example, regarding recruitment, aims will be to ensure that the best applicants are selected to enter the profession in order to produce a sufficient number of highly qualified vets to meet societal needs, and to promote and share best practice in relation to widening participation. Measures discussed in this context include collecting information on veterinary school selection processes in order to create a guide for potential applicants, and working with the RCVS and BVA to develop innovative ways to promote careers in veterinary science. Regarding curriculum and assessment, the aims will be to continually advance excellence in veterinary medicine, and measures discussed include developing a dialogue between the schools and employers of veterinary graduates to gain a better understanding of the workplaces their graduates will enter, as well as reforms to extramural studies.

The importance of ensuring that veterinary research is sustainable is emphasised in the document, which outlines a number of steps aimed at addressing some of the challenges in this area that were highlighted at a VSC meeting on this subject in November last year (VR, December 15, 2015, vol 177, p 554). Meanwhile, plans to ‘expand the VSC's network and influence in Europe, maintaining strong links with European veterinary schools’ seem particularly pertinent in the light of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the VSC's strategic plan is the aim to ‘facilitate and encourage the sharing of best practices, innovations and knowledge between the schools in order to ensure the future viability of veterinary education and research’. Historically, academic institutions, including the veterinary schools, have tended to compete against one another, and even today, for all the emphasis on collaboration, they still have to function in a highly competitive environment. Despite that, the veterinary schools have more in common than not, and it is clearly important that they work together in everyone's interests. The VSC has not appeared out of the blue, having emerged from the former, less formalised group, the ‘Heads of Veterinary Schools’. The strategic plan makes such a good case for this kind of body that, now it is here, one can't help wondering why it wasn't established sooner.

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