Coleraine still the best location for vet school, says Sugden

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​​East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden has reiterated her belief that a vet school at Coleraine’s University of Ulster campus would both ensure the agricultural industry’s future needs are met and reduce “brain-drain” to GB, following the publication of a report into the issue.

The Strategic Investment Board’s (SIB) report into the need for a veterinary school in Northern Ireland highlighted Northern Ireland’s reliance on UK, Ireland and EU-trained vets. Ms Sugden, who has advocated for a vet school for Northern Ireland for years, agreed that a locally-provided course would address the current shortage of vets here and enable lower income students to avail of a more affordable course.

“This report was commissioned because it has become clear that, without a vet school in Northern Ireland, we are reliant on people who have trained elsewhere filling the vacancies we have,” Ms Sugden said.

“Our biggest economic sector – agriculture – is reliant on there being enough vets to do checks and assessments of livestock. A growing trend of small pet ownership has also put more pressure on the vets we have currently.

Claire Sugden MLA.Claire Sugden MLA.
Claire Sugden MLA.

“It has been my belief for some time that a vet school would be best situated at the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster, with its more rural setting and with courses it has lost to other campuses not having been adequately replaced.”

The report – while still leaving the need for further information gathering and analysis – highlighted much of what had been known for years, said the independent MLA.

Students from Northern Ireland who want to become vets must either travel to another part of the UK – where at least one course exists in each of England, Scotland and Wales – Dublin or Europe,” Ms Sugden said.

“Often, these students do not come back to work in Northern Ireland, perpetuating the brain-drain that has existed for generations.

“These courses, however, as identified in the report, predominantly attract students from higher socio-economic backgrounds, and graduates from these courses have less interest in working in mixed farm practices – exactly the kind of positions that are needed in Northern Ireland to support our biggest industry of agriculture.

“A Northern Ireland-based course would enable local students to study more cheaply, potentially attracting those with a farming background or a specific interest in the industry here.

“The report was unable to assess the future demand for services – partly due to the absence of a workforce strategy for the veterinary sector. But with companion pet ownership having boomed in recent years, and increased testing for export meat products, it seems likely that demand will increase.

“With new restrictions on EU workers – where a quarter of our current vets were trained – likely to only get more strict in the wake of Brexit, we cannot simply hope that enough vets move to, or move back to, Northern Ireland.

“With a Northern Ireland-based course students would be able to study close to home in a field they are both interested in and which the industry here requires. I look forward to further research on this topic, but this report, I believe, goes a long way towards advocating for this.”