The Australian and New Zealand colleges of veterinary medicine are doing "outstanding work in veterinary learning, discovery and engagement, are similar in scope and function to their U.S. counterparts and face the same opportunities – as well as political and economic pressures - that confront all of academic veterinary medicine."

Such were the main observations made by Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), following a recent two-week trip in which he attended a meeting of the Australian Veterinary Association and visited six different schools “down under” and in New Zealand.

“This was a very valuable thing to do and an important time to make this visit,” said Maccabe, noting that one goal was to recruit more international members to serve on AAVMC committees and become more involved with the organization. “As the AAVMC continues to increase its international orientation and programming, we need to learn more about our overseas member institutions and the environments in which they are operating.”

Diminishing government support for education in Australia is exerting financial stress on the colleges, causing tuition to rise and increasing student debt, just like in the United States. And similar to conditions in the U.S., there have been some workforce concerns about excess capacity in the profession, according to Maccabe.

In Australia, there are seven colleges or schools of veterinary medicine to serve a population of about 28 million people. To put that in perspective, said Maccabe, Canada has five schools serving about 30 million people, and the state of California has about two schools serving a population of about 39 million people. In the U.S., 30 schools serve about 320 million people.

The federal government provides funding for education in Australia, not the states and territories. To help offset reduced government support, many of the Australian veterinary schools are recruiting students in China, Japan and Hong Kong.

Companion animals play a large role in Australian society and the veterinary profession plays the same critical role in agricultural production that it does in the United States, he said. Beef and lamb are the primary food animal products, and the nation exports about half of its beef.

There are some slight differences in the educational programs. Most programs award the BVSc professional degree, although there is an emerging trend toward awarding the DVM degree.
 
“This was an intensive and very illuminating ‘immersion experience’ into the Australian system for me,” Maccabe said. “I met a lot of wonderful people, toured a number of very impressive facilities, and came away from the experience with an overwhelming impression that we’re all in this together. We share common goals and are functioning in very similar operating environments.”

During the two-week trip, Maccabe examined colleges of veterinary medicine through hosted meetings at the University of Queensland at Gatton, the University of Sydney in Sydney, the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, the University of Melbourne in Melbourne, and he also visited with the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council. He also visited Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment by advancing academic veterinary medicine. Members include all 35 veterinary medical colleges in the United States and Canada, 14 international colleges of veterinary medicine, and 23 affiliate members: www.aavmc.org.