University status for RCSI would boost efforts to attract students and funding

Status matters more than ever in fiercely competitive global education marketplace

The Royal College Surgeons’s new medical education building on York Street. The RCSI is set to become the country’s eighth university under legislation likely to pass through the Oireachtas shortly

What’s in a name? A lot, if you are a college trying to attract international students and lucrative research funding.

The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland has long been a top global performer in medical education, but has felt hamstrung by the fact that it does not have university status.

This matters in a fiercely competitive world where top institutions are competing against each other for the best students and investment.

In Ireland, the use of the term “university” is carefully controlled under the Universities Act 1997, which sets out the legal and regulatory framework for the sector.


For legal reasons, the RCSI has been unable to join the other seven universities recognised by the State.

However, it is understood that Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor is preparing an amendment which would pave the way for the Act to be altered.

Once changed, it is likely that a panel of international experts and national experts would advise on whether the RCSI meets the threshold for the objectives and functions of a university.


This would be a formality for a college which already has the authority to award its own degrees and – whatever about its formal status – was ranked in the top 2 per cent of universities worldwide in the 2018 Times Higher Education world university rankings.

The RCSI, perhaps more than any Irish education institutions, is operating in a global marketplace.

In recognition of the importance of attracting international students, the RCSI has been allowed to use the term “university” outside the State only, under an amendment to the Education Act in 2015.

However, the RCSI has tended not to use the term abroad on the basis that it could open the college to confusion and accusations of misrepresentation.

Politically, there has also been reluctance to award the RCSI university status ahead of moves to create the State’s first technological university.

This issue has, at last, been resolved since the creation of Technological University Dublin last month, formed from the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Tallaght and Blanchardstown IT.


The “private” nature of the RCSI has been cited in some circles as an obstacle in the past to the college being granted university status.

The college – technically a not for profit charity – is funded from private sources and staff are outside public sector payscales and rules. However this, if anything, is a win-win from the Government’s point of view nowadays.

There are no costs to the State in granting university status. In fact, the RCSI is a net contributor to the economy as staff salaries are not paid out of the public purse. Staff are also on the RCSI’s own defined contribution scheme, while its capital investment has involved privately-sourced funding.