The Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) will likely gain university status under legislation passed today.
The legislation creates a new mechanism enabling higher education institutions not primarily funded through the Higher Education Authority (HEA), such as RCSI, to apply to the Minister for Education and Skills for authorisation to be called a university.
RCSI has lobbied for university status for many years but concerns were raised that granting university status to RCSI could set a precedent for many other third level institutions to do the same, which could diminish the term.
The governance status of the college, which was founded by royal charter in the 18th century, was also cited as an issue, as was the fact that its staff are paid privately.
In its campaign to secure university status, the RCSI has argued that its statutory status is similar to that of Trinity, that it is a “public, statutory, regulated institution” and that it is a not-for-profit registered charity regulated by the Charities Regulator.
Following the legal change, the college is likely to describe itself as the “RCSI university of medicine and health sciences”, according to the Irish Times.
Under the new legislation, the Minister for Education must consult the HEA before making a decision on university status. They may also appoint an advisory panel of experts to give their opinion on whether to grant university status to an institution.
Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said in a press statement today: “The title of university is highly prized and its integrity must be protected. The Bill provides a means for higher education institutions that do not receive extensive Exchequer funding to seek authorisation to describe themselves as universities.”
“I am happy that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland will now have the opportunity to apply for designation as a university.”
The change was added to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill, which also puts in place protections for the staff and students of English language schools, addresses academic cheating, and establishes institutes of technology as designated awarding bodies, which will give these institutions more autonomy over their range of programmes.
RCSI is based on Stephens Green and has around 3,500 students. In 2017, the college opened a €80 million education centre on York Street. The institution is planning to expand to create a “university quarter” in the area.