Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6450

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Vol cxlvii No 16

pp. 288–310

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Geoffrey Ward was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Senior Proctor, the Senior Pro-Proctor, and two other persons present.

The following Report was discussed:

Report of the General Board, dated 30 November 2016, on the rescinding of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos and the introduction of two new Triposes, the Medical Sciences Tripos and the Veterinary Sciences Tripos (Reporter, 6447, 2016–17, p. 189).

Professor M. E. Herrtage (Dean of the Veterinary School, and St Edmund’s College), read by Professor A. Williams:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today in support of the proposal to separate the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST) into a Medical Sciences Tripos and a Veterinary Sciences Tripos. I do so with a focus on the provision of Veterinary Education in the University in my role as Dean of the Veterinary School and Chair of the Veterinary Education Committee. That committee is charged with, amongst other duties, advising the Faculty Boards of Biology and Veterinary Medicine on 'matters relating to the education of veterinary students, including admissions policies, student statistics, and examination results'.1

The proposal has been discussed by and has the support of not only the Veterinary Education Committee, but also the Faculty Boards of Veterinary Medicine and of Biology, the Medical Education Committee, the MVST Part I Committee, the Senior Tutors’ Committee, and the Undergraduate Admissions Committee. All these committees have approved the academic case for the creation of a distinct Veterinary Sciences Tripos and the resource for the administrative support underpinning the proposal has also been provided.

This proposal is designed to enhance the coherence and scientific rigour of the veterinary course, by matching recruitment, admissions, teaching, and assessment to the distinctive needs of the veterinary students here in Cambridge who, unlike students at any other veterinary school in the UK, are required to study for a specialist Part II honours subject alongside their professional qualification.

The MVST, since its inception in 1965, has provided material that is common to both medical and veterinary science, but since that date, for good educational reasons, the medical and veterinary components have become more distinctive in content, workload, and emphasis. Currently, the planning of the first two years of medical and veterinary teaching is permeated by an understandable desire to create parity and fairness between the two pre-clinical cohorts. Course elements are continually adjusted for volume, content, difficulty, and relevance to the two cohorts. However, this considerable effort expended in ‘artificially matching and balancing’ the medical and veterinary courses, leads to distortion of course development and assessment processes to promote fairness when the two cohorts compete within the same Tripos. The last of these criteria is obviously desirable, but the first three reflect the arbitrary constraints of a unified Tripos. Every innovation in the assessment of medical students currently necessitates a ‘balancing’ change in the veterinary assessment system, and vice versa. Thus, both groups are disadvantaged by the constraints placed upon their courses. It is educationally undesirable to proceed in this manner. Educational and assessment practices should be optimized to promote the progress of each student cohort, rather than accommodate a requirement to make the veterinary and medical courses ‘match’.

The creation of a separate Veterinary Sciences Tripos will improve veterinary students’ engagement with Cambridge’s unique scientific environment by allowing a more flexible, considered engagement with parallel courses in Medicine and Natural Sciences. Co-teaching of Cambridge veterinary students with natural scientists and medical students is a highly desirable element of the course. It allows veterinary students to benefit from the diverse and rigorous scientific milieu of Cambridge, and prepares them to be high achievers in an unusually wide range of future careers. The current co-teaching with medical and/or natural sciences students would continue to the same total extent as at present; there will be no increase in the teaching load on any Department, no increased cost to the University, and only small alterations to assessment and oversight systems.

A further consideration here is that both the medical and veterinary elements of the MVST require external validation, but by different professional bodies, and this has led to the introduction of unnecessary constraints and pressures on one group by the external validation requirements of the other, leading to compromises on the running of the course for both cohorts. One example was the General Medical Council-driven introduction of Options courses in the second year of MVST – a change now reversed, although its knock-on effects are still to be fully unravelled. This change was initially imposed on both medical and veterinary students, despite the GMC having no jurisdiction over the latter. The opposite phenomenon may occur in the near future, as the Department of Veterinary Medicine applies for accreditation by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The creation of a separate Veterinary Sciences Tripos would have a further positive effect on the recruitment and admissions of students to the veterinary course. The medical and veterinary courses are already different and separate, and appear so to the outside world. The pre-clinical courses attract discrete applicant cohorts, have different UCAS codes, cannot be applied for at the same time, do not permit transfers, have completely separate clinical courses, are overseen by different professional bodies, set dramatically different extramural studies requirements, have different workloads that relate, in part, to different scientific emphases between medicine and veterinary medicine, and, while they share some elements of teaching and assessment, have additional and separate elements of teaching in the pre-clinical years that directly relate to the different professional requirements of the two courses. Indeed, it could be said that the medical and veterinary courses are in some ways more discrete than any other courses within the University – despite their co-taught elements.

The scientific milieu of the University is a unique selling point of the Cambridge veterinary course. I believe that creating a separate Veterinary Sciences Tripos will improve the quality of Cambridge veterinary students, enhance their scientific learning experience, enhance assessment processes, and facilitate external validation and thus continue to produce the best veterinary graduates in the world.