Volume 12, Number 1 July 23, 2004

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WCVM gains accreditation, but faces challenge

Alberta govít may increase Vet-Med training in that province

By Colleen MacPherson

Just as the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) has regained full accreditation status, officials here have learned that Alberta is exploring ways of expanding veterinary education in that province.

Speaking to the June 17 meeting of University Council, Provost and Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson said the U of S has been involved in discussions with colleagues across the border about veterinary education, including the option that Alberta “fund, build and run its own veterinary college”. It is a development he described as “unnerving”.

In an interview June 28, WCVM Dean Charles Rhodes said Alberta’s minister of learning invited both the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the University of Calgary to make proposals this spring on how they might proceed. Both Rhodes and Atkinson were invited to a meeting in early June to hear the proposals, although “neither was fleshed out in any detail”.

Currently Alberta is a signatory, along with B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan, to an agreement to fund the operation of the WCVM in exchange for guaranteed spots for their respective students. That interprovincial agreement, renegotiated in 2002, was key to the WCVM again being granted full accreditation by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education in April, said Rhodes. The council had previously expressed concern that the college was not getting the resources necessary to maintain its facility, upgrade courses and attract faculty.

With the renegotiated interprovincial agreement, worth about an additional $1.75 million annually in operating funds, and an infusion of just over $22 million in infrastructure funding from the federal government, the council’s concerns about the college’s financial position have been largely alleviated, said the dean. New funding was important, he said, because the council “is not only looking at what’s happening now but they’re also looking at the future, and financial stability was a concern on previous visits.”

Full accreditation means WCVM students are eligible to write the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam with no restrictions, and can practise anywhere in Canada, the U.S. and several other countries. The accreditation status extends for seven years with an annual review.

Over the next three years, WCVM will upgrade its space, facilities and equipment, a critical step “if we’re going to attract good researchers, good grad students and good faculty”. The dean said renovations and expansions underway at WCVM have allowed it to offer Alberta a 50-per-cent increase in its enrolment quota as early as next year. Currently, Alberta has 20 places reserved in WCVM’s total annual intake of 67 students. Similar offers to increase student numbers have also been made to B.C. and Manitoba.

Rhodes said Alberta officials may be investigating veterinary education opportunities in order to expand animal health research capacity there, particularly in light of the BSE crisis. There are also potential business spinoffs in the animal health industries and, “in some quarters” it is thought that an Alberta college would eliminate a “suspected shortage” of food-animal veterinarians in that province.

A follow-up meeting to further discuss the Alberta proposals was cancelled by that province’s learning minister, Lyle Oberg. As a result, details remain sketchy, Rhodes said, although the U of A has contacted WCVM and expressed its “intent to work with us, building on what we have here”.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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