City University has hired a senior government official who was closely involved with outbreaks of bird flu to head a team that is planning the territory's first veterinary medicine school.
Veterinarian and epidemiologist Howard Wong Kai-hay left his post as principal veterinary officer after 16 years at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department early last month to become executive director of CityU life sciences programs.
Wong also helped draft food safety laws that came into effect last year when he was seconded to the Food and Health Bureau.
He said his job at CityU is to establish a vets' school that will find "a synergy or a focal point" for its existing life sciences programs, such as biology, bioengineering and biotechnology. "We are not just looking at a vets' school in isolation of everything else.
"There is a lot of collaboration that could be done even with public health, for example, with other universities."
Wong, who earned his veterinary medicine degree at Cambridge University and master's degree in preventive veterinary medicine at the University of California, said CityU will build a small-animal hospital on campus.
He said the university expects to launch the six-year veterinary medicine course in 2014-15, with 30 students.
"There is no vet training of any sort in Hong Kong so we hope to develop these specialists in food safety and public health so they can raise the standard in the whole region and fill in gaps," Wong said yesterday. "The unique thing is we are doing it with Cornell University [in New York], the No1 vets' school and the oldest in the United States so the partnership with Cornell is fantastic." Cornell will help develop the curriculum and facilities.
About 200 Hong Kong students go overseas each year to study veterinary medicine.
Out of 600 registered vets, only 330 are practicing vets in the territory, 30 of whom work in the government and the remainder in the private sector.