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Looking to India for vets
  1. Josh Loeb

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How good (or bad) are Indian vet schools?

That might seem like a peripheral question for the UK given that only one or two graduates from Indian vet schools are made MRCVS each year having passed the RCVS statutory examination.

However, with RCVS president Amanda Boag’s desire to see an increase in ethnic diversity in the veterinary profession and wider concern about a recruitment ‘crisis’, not to mention with Brexit impending, assessing the quality of vet schools in the world’s largest democratic country may yet become important.

Actually, it’s already an issue about which the RCVS has been thinking. In 2016 the college’s head of global strategy Chris Tufnell and its then chief executive Nick Stace went to Delhi and Chennai with an eye towards the possibility of accrediting Indian vet schools in future. Little action followed but now, two years on, the college is about to return to India.

Tufnell will fly to Bangalore soon for discussions with figures from Indian vet schools. This could eventually help facilitate a proper assessment of the quality of one or more of the 44 vet schools in India. That could lead to one or more such schools winning official RCVS accreditation, which in turn could make it easier for some Indian graduates to practise in the UK.

Why does the UK have so many Indian-trained doctors but so few Indian-trained vets?

Even if only one such school were ultimately assessed as having met the requisite standards, there could be interesting consequences in terms of demographics if nothing else. Survey data show that, currently, only around 2 per cent of the UK veterinary profession is ‘Asian/British Asian’ (defined by the UK census as meaning anyone with an Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or ‘other Asian’ ethnicity). For UK vet students, that declines to just 1 per cent. Compare that against a figure of 8 per cent for the UK population. Furthermore, there is a 27,000 to 1 ratio of Indian-trained doctors to vets in the UK, according to the RCVS. Why does the UK have so many Indian-trained doctors but so few Indian-trained vets?

The Major Employers’ Group says there is a 12 per cent shortage of vets in small animal practice. If the current workforce ‘crisis’ is indeed poised to become an übercrisis after a no-deal Brexit, as some analyses suggest, the government may soon have no choice but to welcome in vets from India (and indeed anywhere that vets can be sourced from).

In the meantime, those wishing for a veterinary workforce that is more ethnically diverse might want to push for assessments of Indian vet schools. All graduates of Indian vet schools can reasonably be expected to come from Asian backgrounds. Therefore, if the RCVS were to accredit even just one such school (eg, Bombay Veterinary College, which has been shown via the statutory examination to be a source of a relatively high number of suitable vets), that would probably change the demographics of the UK profession faster than would otherwise happen.

The RCVS appears to appreciate this. In a presentation delivered shortly after the 2016 trip to India, Tufnell said the visit was partly about ‘reaching out’ to the ‘non-white Commonwealth’. Currently South Africa is the only ‘non-white’ country (in terms of its majority ethnic group) with vet schools recognised by the RCVS. Furthermore, as described in this issue (p 205), the present system for registering foreign-qualified vet nurses, like the system for foreign vets, is more rigorous for non-European applicants than for their European counterparts. Supporters of equality would do well to note that too.

To return to the initial question, how good or bad are Indian vet schools? Fine, according to some. Below par, according to others. But we will never truly know until they are formally assessed. If we want or need more Indian-trained vets to be able to register fully with the RCVS, such assessments need to start sooner rather than later. That’s something for Chris Tufnell to mull over on the plane to Bangalore.

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