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Today, the plenary assembly discussed the future of veterinary sciences as a matter of significant national importance, at the initiative of the Rural Affairs Committee.

The Chairman of the Committee Urmas Kruuse declared that as this year marked the 175th anniversary of veterinary studies in Estonia, it could also be construed as the birth date of the Estonian University of Life Sciences. “This is proof that veterinary medicine has an important place in the history and scientific research of our country. Veterinary medicine is most certainly a corner stone of the Estonian University of Life Sciences,” he stated in his presentation.

The Estonian and English medium courses of the University regularly provide training to 30–35 students each, and yet the number of graduates is clearly much smaller and no longer covers the need for professionals. He sees one reason in the outdated salary, which is around EUR 1,770 per month according to the Ministry of Education and Research.

The profession is one of the seven regulated by the European Union that require a specific qualification. “It is not one where you can enter the labour market via another profession and still ensure high quality services. This is a unique regulated curriculum that helps to ensure public health in more broad terms,” he said. The parliament and the government hope to analyse the issue together and find solutions.

The President of the Estonian Veterinary Association Valdeko Paavel told the Riigikogu that access to veterinary care both for smaller and bigger animals has not been self-evident for a long time now. He estimates the number of dogs in Estonia to around 235,000 and the number of cats to 300,000; other pets include rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, various reptiles, but also alpacas, llamas, and camels. “Over 50,000 bee colonies need the attention of veterinarians, as do millions of birds, over 240,000 heads of cattle in country farms, and so forth. We are talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of living beings. Consequently, there is also a big number of animal keepers,” he said.

827 veterinary licences have been issued in Estonia, but nearly 10 percent of the licenced veterinarians do not practice in their field. There is a shortage of 80–100 vets in small animal care and 40–50 vets in agricultural animal care, and the trend of filling the positions tends to be negative as the average age of the vets is rapidly increasing. “Labour market is soon to lose the large graduate groups from the Soviet era, when around 100 students enrolled to the course every year. Today, there is only a quarter of that number in the Estonian medium course.” He added that in 5–10 years, there would be a shortage of 200 vets in Estonia.

The low salary level of the public sector is no competition for the salaries in the private sector, and yet there is a shortage even there. “People with veterinary education are needed today and tomorrow in farms, small animal clinics, state authorities, pharmaceutical industry, but also most definitely in universities, both in the clinical branch as well as in the future of research,” he said.

Paavel noted that Estonian medium veterinary education is a strategic and fundamental issue. “It is high time to increase the number of publicly funded places in veterinary education if we do not want to face a situation where the consequences reach much further than the profession itself, affecting the interests of our environment and society as well as our daily wellbeing, diet, and health,” he said, adding that veterinary education must be well funded and the University must be able to ensure training for the sufficient number of veterinarians.

The Chairman of the Board of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce Ants Noot spoke about the impossibility of producing food and engaging in agriculture without vets. The agricultural land coverage and the number of animals has decreased quite rapidly in Estonia and agricultural businesses have struggled quite a lot from the lack of educated specialists, but also because the economic outlook is not encouraging.

Noot feels that the easiest solution would be to increase state funding, but consideration should also be given to introducing paid education in the Estonian medium. He also stressed the importance of involving agricultural businesses who would be willing to offer further support to graduates. “A couple of simple considerations would be helpful, such as making scholarships tax-free. I am sure that this would make businesses more willing to pay such scholarships,” Noot said, adding that we should also review the system for study allowances and loans, supporting single investments more than has been done so far.

The Rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences Ülle Jaakma told the Riigikogu that the number of places in veterinary education must definitely increase, even if it happened at the expense of downsizing English medium courses; however, this is not possible without additional financing. “As Ants Noot already said, it is important to find ways for involving private funds to expand the opportunities, such as allowing businesses to cover the expenses of study places,” she proposed.

Jaakma also feels that modernising the clinical basis for veterinary education would help. Developing the experimental farm of clinics is currently up to the University because there is no health insurance system for animals and there are also no instruments to allow applying for support for this. “Consequently, we could maybe consider creating such an instrument, such an option, from the Structural Funds, for example,” she said.

Her third recommendation was to review the system of public study allowances to allow motivated students to focus on their studies. “I think that students in veterinary and agricultural fields are worthy of a specialist scholarship, considering how important these fields are in ensuring national food security,” Jaakma said. “Fourthly, we need to develop a refresher training system to bring back the vets who have at some point left the profession.”

Supporting veterinarian education requires the good will and cooperation of various parties. “From the point of view of the university, the primary condition for change is the implementation of the agreed funding in the coalition agreement and government action plan, which would help to overcome the large shortage that has developed over time; by applying different proposals from then on and combining complementary measures, it would indeed be possible to increase places in veterinarian education. These are not decisions that we can sit on because its takes at least six years for the results to materialise,” she said.

During the debate, Arvo Aller (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Tiit Maran (Social Democratic Party), Mait Klaassen and Urmas Kruuse (Reform Party), Toomas Uibo (Estonia 200), and Priit Sibul (Isamaa) took the floor on behalf of their political groups.

Photos (author: Erik Peinar / Chancellery of the Riigikogu)

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

The video can be viewed later on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.

Riigikogu Press Service
Karin Kangro
+372 631 6356, +372 520 0323
[email protected]
Questions: [email protected]

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