Money well spent if veterinary science is tied to public health
With public funding, City University should ensure its programme to train vets is not only about treating pampered pets
The case for public funding of a veterinary school in Hong Kong’s largely urban environment, and in the absence of a livestock industry, was always going to be a tough sell. It is not surprising the University Grants Committee twice rejected requests from City University in 2010 and 2014 because such a school would be unviable and unnecessary in terms of cost and demand for vets.
The university went ahead last year anyway, in collaboration with Cornell University of the United States, with a self-funded undergraduate course in veterinary medicine for 15 students. Persistence has finally paid off, with the grants committee recommending the government subsidise the six-year degree programme and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor giving her blessing at the recent naming ceremony for the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at CityU.
It is only two years since the government warned CityU not to assume it would be subsidised in the long run. The grant could involve up to HK$32 million a year by 2024-25. As a result, annual tuition fees will drop from HK$120,000 a year to HK$42,100.
It takes a stronger argument than the virtue of persistence to justify the change of heart. Perhaps it is to be found in the claim that the investment is in the interests of public health. Lam said the course was timely because at least 75 per cent of emerging human infectious diseases originate from animals.
CityU has said the course will focus not only on training in the care of domestic pets, but on research into food safety and how to prevent disease spreading from animals to humans. This reflects government advice that the ideal school should have a relatively small veterinary medicine training programme and a top-heavy graduate and research programme.
CityU should take its banker’s view seriously in this regard, if the new veterinary school is to be of more academic significance and benefit to the community than an elitist, largely inaccessible training institution. It should aim at developing a specialist niche that sets Hong Kong apart as a regional centre of excellence in veterinary science and public health. Then the cost to the public purse would seem a bargain.