The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) is set to become the country's eighth university under new legislation likely to complete its passage through the Oireachtas shortly.
The 235-year-old Dublin college has been lobbying the government for many years to grant it university status to help boost its chances of attracting top international researchers and students.
Key obstacles to the RCSI being recognised as a university have included concerns that it could create a precedent for many other institutions to do so, which could end up diminishing the status of the term.
The governance arrangement of the college, founded by royal charter in 1784, and the fact that staff are paid privately have also been cited as issues.
However, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor is understood to be preparing an amendment to legislation which would pave the way for a change in its status.
The proposed change is likely to be added in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill, which is making its way through the Oireachtas.
Sources say the legal change, which is being drafted on foot of advice from the Attorney General, will be framed in such a way that it will not create a precedent for other institutions to be able to claim use of the title.
Following the legal change, the college is likely to describe itself as the “RCSI university of medicine and health sciences”.
The college, based on St Stephen’s Green, has about 3,500 students and trainees and is planning to expand to create a “university quarter” in the area.
It recently built a €80 million medical education building on York Street which it says offers students the most advanced facilities in Europe.
The latest global rankings indicate it was in the top 2 per cent of universities worldwide.
In its campaign to secure university status, the RCSI has pointed out that while it is often regarded as a private institution, it maintains it is a “public, statutory, regulated institution”.
It says its statutory status extends back to its foundation by charter which was subsequently amended by the Oireachtas in the mid-1990s. This statutory status, it has argued, is similar to that of Trinity College Dublin.
The RCSI has also pointed out that it is a not-for-profit registered charity and is regulated by the Charities Regulator.