10 December, 2019 – Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor announce Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) granted ‘university’ title

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (10 December 2019) announced that the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) has been authorised to use the title of university in Ireland. 

The renowned medical institution, founded by Royal Charter in 1784, has had permission to use the title overseas since 2015. 

The order for RCSI to describe itself as a university within Ireland was approved by resolution in both Houses of the Oireachtas today. 

It is the first time such an authorisation has been secured. 

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. 

Minister McHugh said: “I am pleased to announce that my decision to grant use of the description of university in the State to RCSI has today been approved by the Oireachtas. The application was given long and detailed consideration. 

“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. 

“The authorisation to university status is right considering RCSI was the only higher education institution with designated powers which could award qualifications including doctoral degrees but could not describe itself as a university.” 

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “The title of university is highly prized in our higher education system and its integrity must be protected. 

“I was delighted to pilot the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Amendment Act 2019 through the Oireachtas this year, paving the way for this resolution to be passed. 

“This authorisation is not lightly bestowed nor easily obtained. RCSI meets all of the challenging 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 qualifications requirements. RCSI has forged intensive and collaborative links with a wide range of partner institutions nationally and internationally, with stakeholders and the local community. 

“Students receive their medical education and training in RCSI and its associated hospitals in a wide range of disciplines including surgery, medicine, nursing, radiology, pharmacy, anaesthesiology, physiotherapy and dentistry. 

“Its record is recognised worldwide and has led to its success as a destination of choice for our own student as well as many international students seeking a world-class medical education.” 

Professor Cathal Kelly, chief executive of RCSI, said: “I welcome the granting of university authorisation to RCSI by Minister McHugh and Minister Mitchell O’Connor and I thank them, and their officials. Founded in 1784 as the national training body for surgery in Ireland, today RCSI is an innovative, world-leading international health sciences education and research institution. This announcement marks a significant milestone in our journey, recognising our impact on higher education in Ireland and internationally. The title university will significantly contribute to our continuing efforts to attract excellent students, researchers and staff, and build our partnerships and reputation internationally.” 

It is the first time an application has been granted for a university authorisation order by the Minister for Education and Skills under section 54(3) of the Universities Act 1997. 

This new legislative process, applying to those education providers that do not drive their primary income from Exchequer funding, was provided for by way of amendment to the 1997 Act provided under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019, enacted earlier this year. 

Note to Editors 

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) 

RCSI is a statutory body founded by Charter in 1784. It holds designated awarding body powers to Level 10 (doctoral degree) on the National Framework of Qualifications and is a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. 

RCSI is a higher education, professional training and research institution focused on medicine and health sciences. It was established to set and support professional standards for surgical training and practice in Ireland. The RCSI School of Medicine, the second oldest in Ireland, was founded in 1886. 

Although a statutory body, RCSI does not receive core grant-in-aid Exchequer funding as do other higher education institutions such as universities, technological universities and institutes of technology. It does derive a small amount of its income (c. 2%) from the Exchequer in the form of payments for services rendered such as a contribution to medicine, pharmacy and physiotherapy education of Irish and EU students. Additional public funding comes to RCSI from competitively secured research grants. RCSI is a not for profit organisation and a registered charity and does not have shareholders. 

Section 37 of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 amends the Universities Act 1997 to provide a legislative mechanism whereby education providers whose primary income does not derive from moneys provided by the Exchequer may make an application to the Minister for Education and Skills for a university designation order which allows the provider to use the description ‘university’ and style itself accordingly. 

This is a separate process to the establishment of a university under the Universities Act 1997. There are currently eight universities in the State including the latest, Technological University Dublin, which is the largest higher education institution in terms of student population with some 28,500 students. 

In order to obtain the new university authorisation order an education provider must comply with a number of specified legislative conditions in relation to doctoral degree awarding powers, research record and programme provision, governance structures, student access requirements, prescribed student population composition and staff qualifications, financial viability, strong social and cultural links, international collaborations including on joint research projects and linkages supporting creativity and contribution to the promotion of the economic, cultural, social and scientific development of the State. 

RCSI has been authorised under the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 to use the description of university outside the State since 2015 for specified purposes of marketing or entering into arrangements with persons outside the State for the purposes of participation in collaborative education and training programmes or research services. 

The use of the title of university in the State does not have any effect on the terms and conditions of RCSI staff nor does it obligate the State in any manner in relation to the institution’s funding or governance arrangements. 

The university authorisation order is subject to review and potential revocation in prescribed circumstances in accordance with the provision of the Universities Act 1997.