Representatives of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association met on Wednesday September 30, 2015 with representatives ofthe Ministry of Education regarding the Government's decision to remove the 85% fee subsidy for students studying veterinary medicine and dentistry at the University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine campus in Trinidad as of the new 2015 – 16 academic year. The change was brought to the Association's attention because of the plight of six students who, having been accepted by the UWI-SVM, were only informed of the change during their registration process.
In a letter to the University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal Professor Clement Sankat, dated May 5th, 2015, the Ministry of Education explained that the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar versus its United States counterpart has made it increasingly difficult for the Government to meet the financial obligation. The Cabinet, on March 30, 2015, approved the decision to end the 85% funding of new veterinary and dental students. Those already enrolled in their respective programmes would still be funded to completion with the caveat that the costs of re-examination due to any “failure or negligence” would have to be borne by the student, and progress reports would be required.
However, in an article in the Sunday Gleaner of September 20, 2015, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education is quoted as saying that the reason for the change is that the graduates have not been returning to give service to Jamaica on completion of their studies. This premise is unequivocally false as since 1995, there have been 57 UWI-SVM graduates registered to practice in Jamaica. Though some have left at some point to do further studies or take up employment elsewhere, some 41 are still resident in the island and working in both the public and private sectors. Four SVM graduates returned in 2015, six in 2014.
The JVMA is very concerned at this removal of the subsidy as it does not bode well for the future of the veterinary profession in Jamaica. Unlike our dental colleagues who have two local institutions accessible to prospective students, there is no institution offering a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine programme in Jamaica. We understand the financial constraints faced by the Government, but believe the idea of dispensing with the funding of veterinary medical training is misplaced.
In this era of emerging and re-emerging disease threats, the need for increased food safety and security, and greater multi-disciplinary collaboration in managing human, animal and environmental health, we cannot afford for an already under-represented arm of the overall health sector to be further weakened in the long term.
The September 30th meeting was cordial and enlightening for both sides, with the Government's difficult financial position being elucidated while at the same time the error in the Ministry's perception that veterinary graduates are not returning to serve the country was corrected.
The urgent matter of the six new students, currently in limbo at the UWI-SVM in Trinidad was discussed, but the level of assistance the Ministry was prepared to give could not be confirmed.
Options to ensure continued but structured support for Jamaican students to pursue recognized veterinary training were discussed and it was agreed that the Ministry and the JVMA would continue dialogue and collaboration on this matter.
Based on the Cabinet decision earlier this year, the last cohort of subsidized veterinary students at the UWI-SVM will graduate in 2019.