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Free tertiary education needed to retain vets

12 June 2006

Free tertiary education needed to retain vets in New Zealand

Jim Anderton tonight speaking at the Association of Rural Veterinary Practice conference raised the issues of maintaining and retaining vets here in New Zealand.

"The success of our animal based primary industries is underpinned by many factors and sectors, and of course veterinary services are one of them. I saw a recent study by BERL, which analysed the contribution of the sector. It estimated our animal production industry each year produces a ‘farmgate’ value of $11 billion. This production relies on vets in a number of ways.

"Vets contribute to disease prevention as well as to research and education.
And rural vets are the vital first line of defence against diseases that could threaten our whole economy. Rural vets will be the first to detect suspected exotic diseases like foot and mouth. So it's obvious that if we want to ensure the continued success of our animal-based primary industries, then we also need to ensure every part of the industry is in strong shape.

"In common with many sectors of our economy, there is a growing problem of a skills shortage within the veterinary sector. I'm keenly aware of the problem, and especially the problem of attracting veterinary professionals to work in rural areas. We're not alone in confronting this issue. There is a worldwide shortage of suitably qualified veterinarians.

"Massey University is the only university providing veterinary training. It is expected to produce around ninety graduates this year - forty percent more than last year. However, the demographics of the industry are changing. Far more women than men are graduating into the industry. Most young graduates - and especially women - are putting a heavier emphasis on work-life balance. In turn, this puts more pressure on clinics that provide 24-hour services.

"The Labour-Progressive Government has already got initiatives underway. Last year the government introduced a new Veterinarians Act. It provides more flexible registration systems. More overseas trained veterinarians with qualifications not recognised here will be able to sit the examination prescribed by the Veterinary Council.

"I personally believe that if we wanted to attract more young people into professions like veterinary practice, then we could go a lot further in helping when the young people are studying. When I was starting out we had a shortage of schoolteachers and students were paid to study teaching.

"Today, a student who tries to gain new skills is punished with a brutal extra tax on the start of their working life. We impose that even though we know some will never be able to pay back their loans and even though it could encourage some young people overseas. So I would like to see us solve the skills shortage by caring for our young better. We could be at the very least be meeting the costs of education and training in our highest priority sectors.

"We are custodians of our own future. That future is best guaranteed though innovation, and steady progress in everything we do. We will meet these challenges though our edge in excellence and by having well educated young people, who are committed to a future in New Zealand," Jim Anderton said.


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