Animal welfare education goes online at Edinburgh University

A student looks at an anatomy model at Edinburgh University. Source: Edinburgh UniversityWhile you probably know about Animal Action Education, our 21-year-old, rapidly expanding program geared to youth in more than 20 countries around the globe, you may be surprised to learn that the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a partner with Edinburgh University, a pioneer in animal welfare education, for a program geared to an entirely different constituency.

Its Masters in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare has been in existence since 1990, with more than 500 graduates to date, and it remains—especially with the opening of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE) just three years ago—a pioneering programme of full-time study for animal welfare practitioners and researchers.

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Two years ago JMICAWE launched a new on-line postgraduate masters/diploma and certificate in international animal welfare, ethics and law, providing the opportunity for those wishing to study off site and part-time. We’ve been providing case studies and other content to the on-line programme since it was launched.

I have too often seen veterinarians get into the field because they love animals, but come out desensitized. They have a very technical approach to care, but often lose sight of an animal’s mental well-being and emotional health. Edinburgh does more than teach animal welfare; they practice what they preach at the vet school. For years, it has been leading the way in using alternative methods to train veterinarians on procedures with, for example, computer models and elaborate acrylic models, so they need not euthanize animals.

I am excited by how this online offering opens up the program to internationally-based veterinarians, NGO fieldworkers, scientists, lawyers, policy makers and any others who seek to study the dynamics of animal welfare, ethics, policy and law, but need to do so at their own pace and place of work. Not everyone, after all, can take a break from their vocation to spend a few semesters in Scotland’s loveliest locale.

I was there a couple weeks ago to meet program officials and professors with my colleague Cindy Milburn, who as Director of Animal Welfare Outreach and Education has been our point person in this partnership.

To walk on campus was truly inspiring. While many of the buildings are throwbacks to a previous era, the modern facilities are evident that this program is looking toward the future. It was comforting to see that so much glass in those facilities was IFAW teal!

To complement these courses, Edinburgh University will in July launch a MOOC (massive, online, open-access course) provided free of charge, allowing even more of the greater public a chance to experience some bits of the program and gain a more comprehensive understanding of animal welfare.

What’s more, the university is finishing up modules specifically tailored to IFAW staff around the world, so we can all partake in the programme, flexing our intellectual muscles and debating academically the issues we deal with every day.

We can often get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities and tasks that we may not see the forest for the trees. If we are to fully embrace our founding principles as an organization, we need that scholarly rigor.

Just like those potential MOOC participants and the 500 masters of animal welfare graduates, we’ll all be much better for it.


To learn more about the Edinburgh University MOOC, visit the class page.

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project