Third-level expansion plan to boost supply of doctors, nurses, vets and dentists

Up to 5,000 new college places may lead to reduction in CAO points and fewer students travelling abroad

Hundreds of additional doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and vets will be trained every year as part of a significant expansion of places in higher education being planned by the Government.

The move is likely to lead to a reduction in CAO points in high-demand courses and fewer students having to travel abroad to train as doctors, dentists or vets.

Subject to securing funding in the budget, Government sources say the places would become available from September 2024 as part of a five-year expansion plan.

The move follows research by the Higher Education Authority, which was tasked by the Government to establish additional capacity in healthcare and veterinary at third level within a short period.


The report has found that, with investment, an additional 208 doctors, 692 nurses, 196 pharmacists, 63 dentists and 230 vets can be trained every year. This could result in an increase of more than 5,000 third-level enrolments across all years when rolled out.

Among the biggest challenges to the expansion plans, however, will be within universities, which in many cases are at capacity.

While the construction of new facilities would take years to realise, higher education providers are confident in some cases that they can lease premises or expand additional courses with temporary buildings or facilities.

The overall cost to the State is likely to run to hundreds of millions of euro, both in constructing new facilities and providing additional staff in the higher education sector.

Education sources say an expansion on this scale will likely lead to reduction in the points requirements for these courses.

The limited intake in these courses has, to date, forced thousands of students to study abroad to train as doctors or vets in eastern Europe, in particular. In veterinary medicine, for example, more Irish students are estimated to be based in Poland than in the only veterinary school in UCD.

The places on new courses would be spread over a number of universities and third-level providers but would see the establishment of new forms of delivery in some cases.

For example, half of the additional 400 nursing places planned at Maynooth University would be reserved for students from further education courses, outside the CAO points system. Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) and Atlantic Technological University (ATU) will also reserve places for students from this pathway.

In a new development in medicine the University of Galway proposal will focus on training doctors to work in remote and rural settings.

The Government on Tuesday agreed to advance the proposals with investment to be considered in Budget 2024 and the National Development Plan review.

Sources estimate the plans would costs hundreds of millions of euro to develop new buildings on third-level campuses, as well as hiring staff to run new or expanded courses.

Where new college places are planned:


The annual intake in veterinary medicine is just 80 students in UCD, which has Ireland’s only veterinary school.

Under expansion plans, the annual intake would jump by an additional 230 students spread across an expanded UCD facility and new veterinary schools at University of Limerick (UL), South East Technological University (SETU) and Atlantic Technological University (ATU). This, when rolled out, would result in 1,145 third-level enrolments across the veterinary medicine area.


The annual intake of 700-plus medical students would grow to include an additional 200-plus students in expanded courses at RCSI, UCC, UCD and UL.

Maynooth University may also open a new school of medicine, subject to regulatory approval, which could provide an annual intake 60-plus medical students from 2025.

Overall, medical place expansion plans could see an additional annual intake of 208 each year, or just over 1,000 in third-level across all year groups.


The biggest planned increase in places by area of study is in nursing, which would see hundreds of new nursing places in UCC, Maynooth University and DCU with an emphasis on graduate entry routes.

In addition there are plans to expand existing courses at ATU, DCU, Munster Technological University (MTU), SETU, Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), UL and University of Galway.

In all, the plans would see a combined additional intake of almost 700 students annually, or overall enrolment of 2,400 students.


The plans would see new degree courses at University of Galway, SETU and ATU, as well as expanded places at RCSI and UCC.

This would see an additional intake of almost 200 students, or 980 when the places are rolled out.


While it has one of the highest points requirements, the plans would see an additional intake 63 students each year at RCSI, Trinity College Dublin and UCC.

This would result in more than 300 places across all year groups.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent