Two leading vet schools saw new student numbers slashed for the current academic year as overall enrolment fell by nearly 11%, UCAS figures have revealed.
The Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) has sought to play down the data, insisting institutions are close to full capacity and highlighting the return of exam assessments following the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a group representing veterinary leaders has called for urgent action to reverse the trend, which it fears will exacerbate an ongoing “cycle of attrition” in the sector.
Final end-of-cycle analysis shows 2,370 students enrolled on to veterinary science degree programmes in 2022, a fall of 290 (10.9%) on the previous year.
But four out of the nine UK schools that are members of the VSC recorded larger percentage falls.
In the most significant cases, enrolment at the University of Bristol was down by 46% to 195 students, while the number starting courses at the University of Liverpool fell by 39% to 160.
Student numbers were also down 21% at Glasgow to 150, by 16% at the RVC to 230 and 7% at Surrey to 190.
In contrast, Nottingham and the Royal (Dick) in Edinburgh, recorded increases of 31% and 15% to 340 and 190 respectively, while Cambridge and Harper Keele saw no change.
‘Close to capacity’
VSC chairperson Stuart Reid said that, while home applications were broadly in line with 2021, some schools had been forced to admit “significantly over their target intake” in past years.
He added: “For entry in 2022, the number of offers was less than in 2021, when teacher assessed grades were used, but still well in excess of the number of places available.
“All of the UK schools are functioning at or close to capacity. Funding is, however, an issue for the sector with the average costs of educating a veterinary student significantly greater than the income per home student.
“For this reason, accessing international students with unregulated fees is a critical component of financial sustainability for schools in a position to do so.”
But VMG president Rich Casey said: “At a time when the profession is already stretched to breaking point, this sharp reduction in student numbers is alarming.
“It is essential that we understand the reasons behind it, learn from it and take the necessary steps to reverse it for this year.
“We don’t have enough vets or nurses, and constant staff shortages simply ratchet up the pressure, exacerbating the sector’s already challenging mental health problems and locking us into a cycle of attrition as yet more colleagues decide clinical practice is not for them.”