The Province of Alberta is set to gradually move $8 million in funding from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan, to the veterinary school at the University of Calgary. On October 12, 2017, Alberta announced that it will expand enrolment at the University of Calgary’s Veterinary Medicine program (UCVM) to approximately 210 students by 2023, from the current enrolment of 130 students.

Alberta’s minister of advanced education, Marlin Schmidt, has also announced that Alberta will not renew its participation in the WCVM’s four-province funding agreement after 2020, opting instead to allocate $4.7 million per year to the UCVM. Incremental increases of 20 seats per year, starting in 2020, will allow Alberta’s current WCVM students to complete their studies. This change will save Alberta $3.3 million annually.

With the new funding for the UCVM, “we will now have the capacity to train all of our students right here in Alberta,” Schmidt stated in a release. “The partnership with the other provinces worked for many years, but by focusing our support on one Alberta-based program, we will achieve provincial cost savings and increase access. This will make life better for students, families and communities.”

WCVM Dean Calls Decision to End 54-year Partnership “Deeply Disappointing”

Although the dean of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), Dr. Douglas Freeman, is deeply disappointed by the Province of Alberta’s decision to withdraw its longtime support of the region’s veterinary college, he says the WCVM’s commitment to western Canadians remains firm. 

The WCVM, jointly established by the four western provinces in 1963, is part of a world-class hub for animal and human health that is based at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), and provides high-quality research, education, and clinical expertise to Western Canada. Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt announced on October 12, 2017, that Alberta will not renew its participation in the WCVM’s interprovincial agreement after 2020.

“Alberta’s decision to withdraw its financial support from the WCVM — more than $8 million per year — will certainly have an impact on the WCVM’s programs and services,” said Freeman.

“However, one province’s decision doesn’t erase all that we have built and accomplished together in the past five decades. The WCVM will continue to be Western Canada’s veterinary college, providing quality veterinary education, research, and clinical expertise to the region. We will not let the loss of support from one partner jeopardize our college’s value to all western Canadians.”

“WCVM has been instrumental to the success of health sciences programming at our university for many years,” said Tony Vannelli, U of S provost and vice-president academic. “The unique partnership we have developed with the western provinces over the past 50-plus years has been overwhelmingly successful in training generations of veterinary professionals. And while the withdrawal of one partner in this agreement is extremely disappointing, it certainly won’t deter us from our mission to meet the needs within a dynamic profession that is essential to the economy of Western Canada.”

The college’s historical interprovincial agreement spells out the terms for provincial enrolment quotas, residency status of applicants to the WCVM, and the cost-sharing formula for funding the regional college at the U of S. Under the current agreement, the veterinary college annually accepts 78 veterinary students. Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan support 20 seats each, and Manitoba supports 15 seats. Two additional seats are allocated for Indigenous students through the college’s education equity program, and one seat is for a student from the northern territories.

Freeman said the most immediate impact of Alberta’s decision will be on the province’s students. After the 2019-2020 academic year, the Province of Alberta will only provide funding for new veterinary student seats at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM).

As a result, students from Alberta will no longer have the choice of completing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree at the WCVM where they have 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.

“We have worked very hard to consistently deliver a valuable package of programs and services to all of the western provinces,” said Freeman. “The WCVM is recognized worldwide for the quality of its education, and based on their scores in the international licensing exam that all veterinary graduates must pass before practising, our WCVM students are among the top 22 percent of graduates worldwide.”

A number of those WCVM graduates are also beginning their veterinary careers in Alberta communities. In the past four years, 97 WCVM-trained veterinarians accepted jobs in Alberta with about 60 percent of those positions being in mixed animal or large animal practices.

“Survey responses from employers across Western Canada consistently show that they are very satisfied with their WCVM-educated employees — especially in the areas of food animal medicine, food safety, small animal surgery, diagnostic pathology, and small animal medicine. Their responses indicate the breadth of our program and our ability to produce veterinary graduates who are well prepared for mixed animal-large animal practice,” said Freeman.

He added that stable financial support from the WCVM’s provincial partners has enabled the college to successfully meet seven key commitments for all of Western Canada. While the four-year DVM program is a core part of the college’s mandate, the WCVM also provides the entire region with post-graduate programs, research in biomedical and veterinary sciences, clinical and diagnostic services, continuing education, public extension education, and training support for veterinary technology students.

The WCVM has helped to build the university’s reputation as a world-class hub for animal and human health research by supporting the development of centres such as the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), Prairie Swine Centre, Canadian Light Source, Prairie Diagnostic Services, U of S Toxicology Centre, and the new Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.

The WCVM’s close relationship with the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources and livestock sectors in the region provides many opportunities for traditional production animal partnerships and collaboration. In addition, the U of S is also the only university in Canada that offers all of the health sciences on one campus, leading to enhanced opportunities to engage in One Health and public health research. These factors have set the veterinary college apart as a regional veterinary college for the West.

The WCVM recently hosted representatives of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) for a five-day visit as part of the AVMA Council on Education’s accreditation review — a process that takes place every seven years. While Alberta’s decision should not have an immediate impact on the college’s accreditation status, the loss of funding will need to be addressed.

“In the meantime, we will be working on funding models for the college while we continue to build our programs based on our longstanding partnerships,” said Freeman. 

With files from WCVM and Network

Photo: Canstock/Chalabala

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