RCSI appeals for university status within Ireland

Officials from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have been urging members of the Oireachtas to amend legislation, allowing the institute to describe itself as a university in Ireland and overseas.

Under current legislation, RCSI may describe itself as a University of Medicine and Health Sciences overseas but may not do so in Ireland. The College believes its “inability to use the description within Ireland seriously impacts on RCSI both in Ireland and overseas.”

Lobbying records for the period 1 September 2018 to 31 December show that RCSI officials, including CEO Professor Cathal Kelly, met with at least 11 officials to provide a description of “why the limitation applied under existing legislation was not in the national interest” and that it “constituted a constraint on RCSI.”

The College has been seeking amendments to the Universities Act 1997, which sets out the legal and regulatory framework for the sector. Under Section 52 of the Act, an institution may not describe itself as a university without the approval of the Minister for Education.

RCSI has been authorised to describe and market itself as a university outside the state under the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, but remains unable to do so within Ireland.

In 2017, it was reported that officials from the Department of Education were concerned that allowing RCSI to describe itself as a university in Ireland would risk derailing the passage of legislation establishing Technological University Dublin, which was formally established on 1st January 2019.

In December 2017, Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne TD put forward an amendment to the Technological Universities Bill 2015 at Report Stage, which sought to authorise the use of the term ‘university’ in Ireland. However, it was ruled out of order by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Feargháil.

Other issues reported at the time relate to its governance structure and the fact that the RCSI exists outside public pay controls.

A total of 54 Senators were lobbied by RCSI, according to records, including NUI Senators Ronan Mullen, Michael McDowell and Alice-Mary Higgins. A further 6 members of the Dáil were lobbied including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, then-Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD.

RCSI is recognised by, and a member institution of, the National University of Ireland. It is a not-for-profit registered charity and is regulated by the Charities Regulator.