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Vets decry province’s plan to redirect school funding to Calgary

Province will pull funding from Saskatoon’s veterinary college to expand its Calgary counterpart

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association says the province is making a mistake by pulling its $8 million in annual funding from the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine to expand the vet school at the University of Calgary.

The association said it supports the expansion of U of C’s veterinary medicine program to about 210 students (from 130 students currently) by 2023.

But it’s “deeply concerned” by the province’s decision to start phasing out its funding of the U of S vet school when the current version of a long-standing four-province funding agreement expires in 2020.

“Eliminating funding for this partnership reduces the capacity for veterinary education and therefore limits the number of veterinarians available to practice in the province at a time when there is already a shortage,” the association said in a news release.

Starting in 2020, the province will allocate $4.7 million per year to the U of C’s veterinary program with incremental increases of 20 seats per year — for an annual saving of $3.3 million a year. Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt said the move means “we will now have the capacity to train all of our students right here in Alberta.”

The decision “will certainly have an impact” on the U of S vet college, the school’s dean, Douglas Freeman, said in a separate news release.

The Saskatchewan school, which the four western provinces set up in 1963, “will continue to be Western Canada’s veterinary college, providing quality veterinary education, research and clinical expertise to the region,” said Freeman.

The “most immediate impact” of Alberta’s decision will be on the province’s own students, he said. After the 2019-20 academic year, students from Alberta will “no longer have the choice” of completing a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatoon-based college noted it offers access to a “thriving” veterinary teaching hospital, a “diverse caseload of small- and large-animal patients,” specialized faculty, livestock-focused teaching and research facilities and a range of research centres on the U of S campus.

Under the current interprovincial agreement, U of S takes 78 new veterinary students per year, with Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan each supporting 20 seats while Manitoba supports 15. Two more seats are allocated for Indigenous students and one for a student from the northern territories.

For its part, the Alberta government said it expects more students and communities across the province to benefit from the Calgary program’s community-based practicum model, which connects veterinary students with rural practices.

The new funding “gives more Alberta students the opportunity to enter our community-embedded veterinary medical training programs and increases our capacity to graduate local veterinarians to support the province’s food animal, equine, and pet-owning communities,” said Baljit Singh, dean of Calgary’s veterinary medicine faculty.

A labour market demand forecast for Alberta estimates the province will need nearly 1,100 veterinarians by 2023, the province said.

However, U of S said many of its graduates are already beginning their veterinary careers in Alberta communities, including 97 in the past four years (with about 60 per cent of those being in mixed-animal or large-animal practices).

The Saskatchewan college said it also provides the entire western region with post-graduate programs, research in biomedical and veterinary sciences, clinical and diagnostic services, continuing education, and training support for veterinary technology students.

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