Royal College of Surgeons becomes State’s ninth university

Dublin institution says change will help it secure top staff, research funding and students

The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) has been formally authorised to use the title of "university" for the first time in 235 years.

The institution is to describe itself as "RCSI university of medicine and health sciences" in future.

It follows years of lobbying by the institution which has argued that securing university status would help boost its chances of attracting top international researchers and students.

Among the obstacles cited previously by government officials were the governance arrangements of the college, founded by royal charter in 1784, and the fact that staff are paid privately. There were also concerns it could create a precedent for many other institutions to secure university status, which could end up diminishing the status of the term.


However, an order for RCSI to describe itself as a university within Ireland was approved by resolution in both Houses of the Oireachtas on Tuesday.

It follows an amendment to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019, which provides a new legislative route for private education providers to apply for university designation.

Full rights

It requires that a new university must comply with conditions in relation to a range of areas including doctoral degree-awarding powers, governance structures and student-access requirements.

On foot of the legal change, RCSI now has full rights to use the title to style, market and describe itself as a university both in Ireland and around the world.

It now becomes the ninth university in the State, the latest of which had been Technological University Dublin, which was formed after the amalgamation of DIT, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght.

Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the title of university was highly prized in the higher education system and its integrity must be protected.

“This authorisation is not lightly bestowed nor easily obtained. RCSI meets all of the challenging conditions laid out in the legislation,” she said.

“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 qualifications requirements,” she said.

‘Significant milestone’

Prof Cathal Kelly, chief executive of RCSI, said the announcement marks a "significant milestone" its its journey.

“The title university will significantly contribute to our continuing efforts to attract excellent students, researchers and staff, and build our partnerships and reputation internationally,” he said.

The RCSI, 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 an €80 million medical education building on York Street which it says offers students the most advanced facilities in Europe. Latest global rankings indicate it was in the top 2 per cent of universities.

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