Ireland aims to dramatically hike veterinary school intake

Three prospective new programs deemed 'viable' by government

June 26, 2023 (published)
Photo courtesy of the University of Limerick
The University of Limerick is one of three educational institutions in Ireland that have received early-stage approval to host new veterinary schools.

Ireland is aiming to more than double the number of veterinarians it graduates each year by creating up to three new veterinary schools and expanding capacity at its only existing school.

The ambitious undertaking is part of a broader government initiative to plug skills shortages in the country's health-care sector, and would see 230 more veterinary students trained each year, along with an additional 208 doctors, 692 nurses, 196 pharmacists and 63 dentists.

Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland, is distinct from Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has no veterinary school. Ireland has one, established in 1946 at University College Dublin (UCD). For the 2022-23 academic year, which commenced last September, the university enrolled 94 students in its undergraduate veterinary program and 53 students in its graduate program.

Last year, Ireland's government invited educational institutions to express an interest in either building new veterinary schools or expanding existing capacity, effective in academic year 2024-25 or 2025-26.

The government said last week that it has given UCD the green light to add 55 undergraduate and five graduate places. It's also given early-stage approval for new veterinary schools at the University of Limerick, Atlantic Technological University and South East Technological University, with 90, 40 and 40 student places, respectively.

Although each new development has been deemed "viable," proponents will have to submit a detailed business case for approval before receiving a final go-ahead and associated government funding.

In brief

"Each will be subjected to a process, and investment will be subject to the normal procedures," Simon Harris, Ireland's minister for higher education, said in a press release. "However, this could lead to an unprecedented change in the number of graduates in these key skills areas in the coming years and will help the health and agriculture sector begin to address workforce shortage issues."

What proportion of the new places might be reserved for foreign students wasn't specified. Supporters of a new school long have expressed a desire to deepen the local talent pool, especially to serve large and mixed animal practices in rural communities.

The University of Limerick said at least 10% of the 90 student places at its new veterinary program would be reserved for students from Northern Ireland. In March 2021, Northern Ireland announced that it was studying the merits of building its first veterinary school, but those plans have been mired in delays.

Dr. James Quinn, a large animal veterinarian who has been lobbying for a new veterinary school in Ireland, welcomed the government's move. He wondered, though, if all three of the proposed new schools would be developed, positing that the University of Limerick (UL) is the clear frontrunner.

"Closer examination of this process leads us to believe that probably only UL will have the scale and resources to deliver the allocated new school places," Quinn said in an email. "Geographical location, existing experience with medical programme delivery and access to the practice types and numbers needed for a distributed model show UL to be the location of choice for a properly resourced new school."

The University of Limerick said it would provide a "hybrid distributed" model of veterinary clinical education, using both a network of off-campus practices and a "contemporary teaching hospital in Limerick."

"The curriculum of the programme will be mapped to international competences with accrediting bodies, positioning UL as a leading international veterinary educator, and maintaining and enhancing the current educational reputation of Ireland's veterinary graduates," the university said in a press release.

Atlantic Technological University, which has campuses in the west and northwest of Ireland, said a new veterinary school there would complement its existing offerings in veterinary nursing and agriculture. "I am naturally delighted with today's news  it is a strong signal of confidence in ATU's capability and capacity to deliver these programmes," its president, Orla Flynn, said in a press release. ATU also has been given early approval to develop a pharmacy program.

South East Technological University said the government's decision "is a real vote of confidence" in the young university, which opened its doors only last year, and would build on its "strengths in science and land sciences."

An apparent shortage of veterinarians exists in Ireland even though the country, as a member of the European Union, has more porous borders for foreign workers than the U.K., which recently left the EU. Moreover, freedom of movement still is permitted for people between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

All that porosity has created a problem in itself, according to supporters of a new veterinary school, who note that more than two-thirds of Ireland's veterinarians study overseas — often in Eastern European countries with lower living costs, such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia — because there are too few training places at home in Ireland.

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