There has been much talk of a new Irish veterinary school over the last two years. Increased labour shortages on the ground have resulted in more pressures on rural veterinary practices. There are also hundreds of students wanting to study veterinary medicine in Ireland – but they are forced to travel abroad due to the high points needed here, and the limited places.

Taoiseach Simon Harris told the Irish Farmers Journal last week that it will be possible to deliver extra veterinary capacity for Irish students this September.

However, in contrast, Minister for Further Education, Patrick O’Donovan, said it is not expected that there will be additional places this year. A spokesperson from Minister O’Donovan’s office said he is committed to expanding the provision of veterinary medicine programmes in the higher education sector but, “given the complexity of bringing forward these projects, it is not expected that additionality will be available in 2024.”

Minister for Further Education, Patrick O’Donovan.

Uncertainty remains as shortlisted colleges have told Irish Country Living that they need clarity and a decision to be made on the funding and support available for the vet school. With the CAO change-of-mind facility closing in three months, students are left waiting.

Timeline of new vet school

October 2022: The Higher Education Authority (HEA) launched a process seeking expressions of interest from higher education institutions in building capacity in veterinary medicine.

June 2023: Four colleges were shortlisted as suitable locations for the provision of a new veterinary medicine school as a report by the HEA found that, with investment, 230 vets could potentially be trained annually. These include SETU, UL, ATU and UCD in an expanded places capacity.

September 2023: Simon Harris, then Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, “confident” of more veterinary places for 2024.

January 2024: Simon Harris and Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue agreed to make a joint bid on the National Development Plan (NDP) process, based on a meeting that was held before Christmas.

April 2024: Simon Harris was appointed Taoiseach and Patrick O’Donovan was appointed Minister of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

The Irish Farmers Journal has documented the timeline of the new veterinary school since its announcement in 2022. However, two years later, four colleges are still waiting for a decision to be made on its location.

Ability to expand

UCD is the only college in Ireland currently offering a Level 8 Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, with approximately 82 places available for applicants every year. Many Irish students will not got a place because as of the closing date of this year’s CAO, 885 students have veterinary as their first preference. This is subject to change during the change-of-mind facility that will close in June, but it is still expected to be over-subscribed.

In 2023, to study veterinary medicine (undergraduate entry) the points range was 589 to 625, with veterinary nursing at 518.

The UCD School of Veterinary Medicine spoke to Irish Country Living about the proposed expansion of places on the Veterinary Medicine (MVB) programme.

“As part of the Higher Education Authority’s capacity-building process to respond to national skills needs, an additional 50 places in veterinary medicine will potentially be allocated to UCD,” said a spokesperson.

“Our school remains focused on and committed to the expansion of our existing veterinary medicine programme, subject to appropriate resources and funding, and we will continue to fully engage with the capacity-building process.”

Atlantic Technological University

The Atlantic Technological University (ATU) plans to deliver a full-time undergraduate programme of study in veterinary medicine which will have a dual campus delivery model between ATU Donegal and Mountbellew Agricultural College.

A spokesperson from ATU spoke to Irish Country Living about the work carried out since June and the impact the wait period has had on its development.

“ATU is fully committed to the delivery of a new programme, however, in the absence of a decision regarding the future provision of veterinary medicine education, the timeline for the delivery of the programme will come under continued pressure,” said a spokesperson.

“The ability of the university to advance the development and delivery of the programme in the absence of unambiguous government support and significant funding will be challenged.

“The prolonged wait for the outcome of the process will mean that students will continue to have limited opportunities to study veterinary medicine in Ireland and continue to force our young people to travel abroad to European universities to pursue their goals of becoming veterinarians.

“ATU would like to see the decision on the provision of veterinary education and the allocation of suitable funding prioritised and expedited and that the HEA are supported to conclude the 2022 call as soon as possible.”

South East Technological University

Since being shortlisted as a potential new provider of veterinary medicine in June 2023, South East Technological University (SETU) has appointed a Veterinary Medicine Programme Development Lead, Dr Mary-Kate Burke.

A spokesperson told Irish Country Living: “SETU requires clarity as soon as possible on whether the university will receive investment in support of a new veterinary medicine programme.”

“The provision of veterinary medicine is included in SETU’s strategic plan in an effort to meet regional and national skills needs,” added Professor Campbell, President of SETU. “We are enthused about working in partnership with Kildalton Agricultural College to deliver a high-quality veterinary programme that provides an excellent student experience.”

Significant resources and staff time have been invested by the college in the development of the veterinary medicine programme, in collaboration with Kildalton Agricultural College. However, the full rollout of the programme will require state investment, including new infrastructure, according to the spokesperson.

“Lack of clarity on the timelines makes it difficult to give clear answers to interested students and parents/guardians in relation to proposed intake dates.

“A decision needs to be made with respect to the approval of funding to ensure that the programme can be made available to students in a timely manner.”

University of Limerick

In response to Irish Country Living, a spokesperson from the University of Limerick (UL) said: “UL did respond to the call for expressions of interest from the HEA to build capacity in medicine, nursing and veterinary to meet national skills needs. As this process is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

In brief

• There are currently 3,330 vets on the register; 2,162 qualified in Ireland, while 1,126 gained their qualification outside of the country.

• 321 new vets and 126 new veterinary nurses joined the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) register in 2023.

• “Veterinary Ireland supports the establishment of additional veterinary places in Ireland to reduce the need for Irish students to travel abroad for their training,” says Hazel Mullins, President of Veterinary Ireland. “The availability of these CAO places in 2024 must not jeopardise the accreditation process.”