June 2013 issue

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Accredited programmes, excellent facilities and guaranteed career progression: just some of the reasons why students might choose to study pharmaceutical courses overseas. Claire Twyman investigates.

An intellectually stimulating and rewarding vocation, pharmacists require an in-depth knowledge of a range of scientific areas such as biochemistry, advanced neuropharmacology and social pharmacy subjects. Across the globe, institutions offer a number of courses that equip students with these skills.

In Australia, for example, the University of Tasmania’s School of Pharmacy is one of the oldest in Australasia, according to the university’s Luke Bereznicki, and it was also the first to incorporate a fourth year syllabus in the Bachelor of Pharmacy programme. While the first year involves studying basic sciences and completing placements at hospital and community pharmacies, the second involves the study of drugs and pharmaceutical sciences while in the third and fourth year, the focus is on pharmaceutical practice with students improving their therapeutic knowledge and counselling skills. The course offers one of the highest placement hours in the country, Bereznicki enthuses, adding that it is also accredited by the Australian Pharmacy Council (APC) and the Malaysian Pharmacy Board. “Most recently, we have created some benchmarks at every year to help students with their communication. Communication is a key requirement in pharmacy, with pharmacists being the frontline in health talking directly with customers and patients every day.”

Bereznicki explains that the current student cohort is 30 per cent international and comprises Malaysian, Chinese, Korean and Saudi students. Also in Australia, the University of Sydney – where the number of pharmaceutical students is controlled so that graduates have the best chance of securing employment – has welcomed students from Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, as Professor Iqbal Ramzan, Dean of Pharmacy, notes. Courses are also accredited by the APC.

The university’s Bachelor of Pharmacy is also a four-year programme, and recently “underwent a major restructure with a focus in third year on disease states such as cardiovascular and diabetes”, says Ramzan. For this programme, non-English speaking students need an Ielts score of 6.5, and a score of 7.0 for the master’s course.

In Canada, non-English speaking students on the tertiary non-degree Pharmacy Technician programme offered at Georgian College, which is accredited by the Canadian Council for Accreditation for Pharmacy Programs, need an Ielts score of 7.0 or a Toefl score of 91. “We have the unique opportunity to offer an inter-professional perspective as we share curricula with other health and wellness programmes such as massage therapy and nursing,” explains Gabriela Facchini. From autumn 2013, the programme will work in collaboration with a local hospital, Facchini says, adding that study areas include pathophysiology, retail dispensing and infection control. “We have a virtual hospital, a spa and all the latest and up-to-date technology and medical services. We have student-run clinics open to the public.”

The college has a student population that is 95 per cent Canadian, “so the integration into the English-speaking environment for international students is wonderful”, says Facchini. Similarly, at the University of Ottawa, also in Canada, five per cent of students on the four-year Biopharmaceutical Science undergraduate course are international. “Biopharmaceutical Science, (BPS), a relatively new field, is making it possible to address many exciting challenges in biology and health sciences such as the development of the next generation of drug treatments,” enthuses Noémie Duval.

Duval explains that BPS is a concoction of existing programmes. “About 10 specialised, senior [modules] were created at the inception of the programme and this number has since doubled to incorporate new developments in the field such as personalised and regenerative medicine synthetic organic chemistry and medical engineering,” she says, adding that certain modules are offered in French.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the University of Greenwich offers a BSc and MSc in Pharmaceutical Science and is the only UK institution to offer an MSc in Formulation Science. “The courses were developed with the needs of the industry in mind,” says Bruce Alexander. “Major pharmaceutical employers in the UK, such as Pfizer, had a need for graduates with specific skills.” One of the Professors was Vice-President of Worldwide Pharmaceutical Science in the Pfizer Global Research and Development division, he reveals, commenting, “As well as teaching topics such as inhalation technology and paediatric medicines, the Professor gives our students workshops in industrial employability skills that are based on those he developed during his 25 years at Pfizer.”

“At one point we had more than 350 international students registered on the two MSc degrees,” says Alexander, adding that traditionally the courses have attracted a large cohort of Indian students and is now welcoming students from Nigeria and Ghana. “One thing that has been common throughout has been the motivation of students to study industrially-relevant degrees and to take the skills they develop with us and use them on the job market when they return back to their home countries.”

The popularity of agents

A number of contributors to this article sing the praises of agents, with Susan Preston from Kingston University London explaining that they have always been part of the institution’s recruitment strategy. “The role of education consultants has been critical in developing these courses and we have had a long-standing relationship with them,” continues Bruce Alexander at the University of Greenwich in the UK. “We have done very well in partnership with agents in the Indian sub-continent and would like to welcome more students from the Middle East and the Americas.”

Meanwhile, Gabriela Facchini from Georgian College in Canada has further insight into agent usage. “Students that come through agents are better prepared,” she says. “Agents are readily available to the students overseas to counsel them on their best options and about how their culture is different from ours. They are better positioned to screen students as applicants to the college and as potential successful visa applicants. This results in fewer unqualified applicants to the college, hence saving time and money on the human resources side.”

Also in Canada, the University of Ottawa is considering expanding agent networks in India and Africa, says Noémie Duval, although a final decision has not been made yet.

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