BVA, RCVS and VSC news: Government urged to exempt overseas veterinary students in UK from immigration targets

5 February 2018

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) have submitted a joint paper to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the future of non-UK citizens studying at UK vet schools.

The MAC is an independent body that provides the Government with advice on migration issues and last autumn it had put out a consultation asking for views on the economic and social impacts of international students. The submission by BVA, RCVS and VSC was made on Friday 26 January 2018 and had three key requests:

·    That student numbers are not included in the Government’s overall immigration target, as to do otherwise would add to the downward pressure on the number of qualified vets able to come here from abroad.
·    That overseas veterinary students who qualify in the UK should be able to remain here to live and work after graduation in order to alleviate the existing shortage of vets.
·    That any required increase in the number of UK-national veterinary graduates – whether in general or due to a reduction in the number of overseas students – be properly funded as international students currently make a disproportionate contribution to the finances of veterinary schools.

According to the submission, out of the 5,295 veterinary undergraduate students studying at the UK’s eight vet schools in 2017 some 1,145 (or 21.6%) of students were not British citizens – of these 129 were from EU countries and 1,016 were from non-EU countries.

Although the number of EU veterinary students was relatively small, the submission noted that non-UK EU nationals make up 22% of veterinary surgeons working in academia in the UK, most of whom have roles directly linked to providing education and training in the undergraduate veterinary degree. Some of these staff were recruited from outside the UK while others are graduates of UK veterinary schools. This pipeline is important for veterinary schools in ensuring the continued quality of UK veterinary medicine.

Professor Stephen May, RCVS President and Senior Vice-Principal at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, said: “This submission is made against a backdrop of potential staff shortages across the veterinary sector as a whole, particularly if the flow of EU veterinary surgeons coming to the UK is stemmed following Brexit, or if large numbers of EU citizens currently working here decide to go elsewhere for work.

“Therefore we thought it extremely important to emphasise that the UK should be open to international students and that overseas graduates with RCVS-recognised qualifications can practise here unhindered so that we continue to get the best and the brightest the world has to offer. We welcome the fact that the Government has signalled that students may be removed from the overall immigration targets in the near future.”

British Veterinary Association President, John Fishwick, said: “Veterinary students from the EU, and across the world, make vital social and economic contributions to universities and the wider community. It is essential that our vet schools continue to be attractive places for them to study.

“The measures outlined in our submission aim to help maintain the necessary numbers of highly educated and skilled vets. Fulfilling the demand for vets, following the departure of the UK from the EU, will be essential to maintain animal health and welfare, public health, food safety and trade. Enabling overseas veterinary students who qualify in the UK to remain and continue to contribute following graduation will help alleviate a shortage of vets.”

Professor Ewan Cameron, Chair of the Veterinary Schools Council and Head of the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, said: “It is essential for policy-makers to understand that fees provided by overseas students strengthen the quality of veterinary education and training. But the role that these students play goes far beyond economics.

“The collegiate, international atmosphere of veterinary schools is built on the varying backgrounds of both students and staff. The schools wish to welcome the best and brightest students and staff, wherever they are from. This diversity of backgrounds and experience greatly enriches learning and inquiry at our schools. To be introduced to new ideas and ways of working is fundamental to the quality of veterinary education. In addition, the potential for overseas students to progress into academic roles, as many do, is of significant benefit to both teaching and research.

“Deterring overseas veterinary students can only have a negative effect on animal and human health.”