Discussions are underway about a possible merger between Dublin City University, NUI Maynooth and the Royal College of Surgeons, the Sunday Tribune has learned.
It is understood that preliminary talks about combining the three institutions have already taken place. The aim of the merger would be to ensure the survival of each facility into the future.
It is unclear whether each college will continue to operate on its existing campus or move to one location. Discussions as to whether each will keep its current names are also taking place. A source involved in the talks said: "It would be a beneficial move for all three colleges, and talks are underway as to how this may work."
It is believed that the discussions will be concluded by the end of the summer and it is hoped that, if agreement is reached, the merger could go ahead in the short term.
Speculation is also growing that NUI Galway, University College Cork (UCC) and the University of Limerick are also engaged in discussions of a possible merger.
According to a spokeswoman for NUI Galway, there are no "formal talks going on with regard to a possible merger of the three institutions" while a UCC spokesman denied knowledge of merger talks and said they were involved in an initiative known as the Universities Atlantic Pact, which sees all three collaborate on different areas of research.
The merger talks are taking place amid a financial crisis in the country's third-level institutions. Universities such as University College Dublin (UCD) and UCC have current deficits of more than €15m and the government has recently begun taking steps to bring their finances into line, stating that under the Universities Act, no college is permitted to run up a debt.
Trinity College Dublin and UCD recently announced a €1bn alliance, which will combine their respective research facilities. Sources say that the merging of third-level institutions will become commonplace over the coming years.
Sources involved in the current talks say that if the merger goes ahead, then the three colleges will be able to combine the best of their facilities, thereby making them stronger and more attractive for potential students.
DCU's campus is located on the north-side of the city spanning more than 85 acres, with faculties covering areas such as business, engineering and humanities.
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) currently has a campus on St Stephen's Green with schools of pharmacy, physiotherapy, nursing and healthcare management.
NUI Maynooth is Ireland's second oldest university and is located 15 miles from Dublin city centre.
A spokeswoman for NUI Maynooth said: "RCSI, DCU and NUI Maynooth have been engaged in successful and substantial collaborations over several years. Building on three years of discussions, the three institutions have submitted a joint proposal for research funding under PRTLI. This will demand ongoing co-operation over the coming months".
DCU and RCSI were not available for comment at the time of going to print.