Veterinary practitioners have raised concerns about an expert panel which will review applications of third-level institutions to host a second vet school in Ireland.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) previously called for expressions of interest to build capacity in veterinary, with institutions from all four provinces responding to the call.

A group of veterinary practitioners calling for a vet school in Munster fears that the selection process is being rushed, and claims that information on the expert panels is “not reassuring”.

The HEA will assess applications with an independent panel and engage with the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) as part of the process, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science said.

Group representative, James Quinn said that University College Dublin (UCD); Munster Technological University (MTU); Atlantic Technological University (ATU); South East Technological University (SETU); and University of Limerick (UL) applied to the HEA.

“Our main concern at this stage of the process is that an independent panel of veterinary education experts, including overseas representatives from the accreditation bodies [such as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons] is put in place to evaluate the submissions.

“That way the best submission will be selected. Any in-house arrangement is not guaranteed to give the best result,” Quinn told Agriland.

The group raised its concerns with the department, calling for a measured approach which properly assesses each college.

“We waited a long time for a new vet school, it is essential they get it right,” Quinn added.

Vet shortage

In the context of increasing demand for veterinary services and ongoing recruitment challenges, the VCI welcomed 302 new vets – including 80 UCD graduates – and 139 new veterinary nurses to its register in 2022.

The remaining vets graduated from abroad, with 35 newly registered vets from Budapest University of Veterinary Science, and 14 vets from Warsaw University of Life Sciences.

The total number of vets and veterinary nurses on the register currently stands at 3,399 and 1,245 respectively, which is an “all-time high” in terms of the number of veterinary professionals working in Ireland.

The VCI is the statutory body responsible for the regulation and management of the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing, tasked with the accreditation of programmes of veterinary education in Ireland.

The top ten counties which accounted for the most new vets in 2022 were:

  • Dublin – 32 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Cork – 20 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Galway – 20 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Tipperary – 13 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Meath – 13 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Kildare – 13 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Wexford – 12 newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Wicklow – eight newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Kerry – eight newly registered vets in 2022;
  • Limerick – seven newly registered vets in 2022.

In relation to the creation of a new vet school, a spokesperson for the VCI said it will be pleased to apply its accreditation assessment and standards to any new applicant programmes of veterinary medicine.