Veterinary schools are facing serious financial problems because a doubling of their undergraduate intakes has not been matched by funding increases, says the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
And an explosion in the demand for high-tech solutions to the illnesses of Pets and farm animals means that training vet students is becoming highly expensive, it said.
Vet student numbers are regulated, but the quota was raised by the Government in 1988. Since then, the number taken on each year has jumped from an average intake per school of 56 per year to 83. But funding from the Higher Education Funding Council has fallen from Pounds 17,890 per student in 1988/89 to Pounds 11,670 in 1993/94.
"We have pretty conclusive proof that the cuts have now gone too deep," said Peter Woolley, registrar of the RCVS, who met MPs this week to lobby for support. "A whole series of pressures is causing us much concern. Eventually standards will decline. Once a person qualifies as a vet they are then unfettered in what they do."
At Liverpool University student numbers have risen from 45 to 80 between 1988 and 1994 while academic staff have dropped from 50 to 43. At Glasgow the ratio has changed from 4.7 students per staff member in 1984 to 7.3 in 1994.
Lance Lanyon, principal of the Royal Veterinary College, said that veterinary science received about the same unit of funding as medicine but it has no back-up from the NHS for its clinical teaching. "The public now expects a level of health care for their animals that is comparable with what they get themselves."
There are similar demands over farm animals. Mr Woolley said: "Some dog owners expect renal transplants for their pets".
Professor Lanyon said: "I suspect that within ten years some university is going to crack". The result would be derecognition of the course by the RCVS, he said.
John Webster, head of the school of veterinary science at Bristol University said: "Our clinical departments are managing to keep themselves above water through self-help. But our pre- and para-clinical departments are finding life extremely difficult."