The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) has been authorised to use the title of university in Ireland, following approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas today.
RCSI is a higher education, professional training and research institution focused on medicine and health sciences. However, it could not previously refer to itself as a university in Ireland.
Legislation passed in July created 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. This is the first time such an authorisation has been secured.
RCSI now has full rights to use the title to market and describe itself as a university both in Ireland and around the world.
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.
Following approval in Leinster House today, Minister for Skills and Education Joe McHugh said: “RCSI has played a hugely important role in Irish surgical and medical education and training for 235 years. The institution is at the forefront of progressive learning, incorporating state-of-the-art technology and teaching, with students from 40 countries gaining some of the best knowledge and experience in medicine.”
McHugh said that granting RCSI university status was warranted considering RCSI was the only Irish higher education institution which could award qualifications like doctoral degrees but could not describe itself as a university.
Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: “The title of university is highly prized in our higher education system and its integrity must be protected….This authorisation is not lightly bestowed nor easily obtained.”
She stated that RCSI meets all of the conditions laid out in the legislation. “It demonstrates excellence in its continued research record, the breadth and intensity of its programmes, coherent and effective governance, student access and composition and staff qualification requirements,” she said.
During its campaign to secure university status, the governance status of the college, which was founded by royal charter in the 18th century, was cited as an issue, as was the fact that its staff are paid privately.
RCSI 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.