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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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A year in review: the Vice-Chancellor's highlights of 2018/19

(27 June 2019)

As the 2018/19 academic year draws to a close, Professor Stuart Corbridge, our Vice-Chancellor, shares some of his highlights.

It’s hard to believe, but another academic year is almost over. Next week is Summer Congregation. 4,600 students from 90 countries will be graduating across 16 ceremonies in the wonderful setting of Durham Cathedral: surely the best place to graduate anywhere in the UK, if not the world.

Summer Congregation is always a wonderful end to the academic year. Relatives and friends of our graduates often tell me how touched they are by the warm Durham welcome they receive from the City. And I know their visit is important for the local economy, too.

Inspiring achievement

It has been a very successful year for us here at Durham’s university. We performed very well in national and international league tables, including being placed fifth in the UK in the Guardian University Guide and recording our highest ever number of subjects in the world Top 100 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Our researchers have again extended the boundaries of our understanding: particularly in the fields of surface science, energy and clean growth, cosmology and astronomy, heritage and culture, and hazard and risk. Their work is having real impact across the world and here at home. Did you see that a team including Durham physicists recently solved a puzzle that could lead to cheaper and more efficient solar power?

Durham students have also achieved inspiring feats once again. English Literature undergraduate Sophie Ainsworth received the Prime Minister’s Points of Light volunteering award for her work to raise awareness of invisible illnesses and Collingwood College AFC raised over £7,000 for charity by staging a 24-hour football match. Their chosen charity works to prevent male suicide: a cause I was proud to pull my old boots back on for.

Responsible growth

We’re growing the University so we can do more of exactly this kind of work. We want to contribute more to society and our economy, locally, nationally and globally.

You will have seen our new buildings taking shape over the 12 months. Our new Teaching and Learning Centre on South Road will open for the new academic year, followed by our new Colleges at Mount Oswald in summer 2020. I warmly invite you to come and take advantage of our much-improved sports and wellbeing facilities at Maiden Castle when the first phase of the project, a new sports and wellbeing complex, is completed in the next few weeks.

We’re grateful to everyone who has shared their views on our proposals for a new Business School at Elvet Waterside, and we’re hoping to secure planning permission soon for an £8 million investment to improve roads and footpaths along South Road. This will help pedestrians, cyclists and motorists get around our estate.

Enabling partnership

We have also worked hard this year to maintain and develop good relations and strong partnerships with our neighbours in Durham. Though we are not complacent, I do believe we have made good progress in this area. I am truly grateful to all City residents who have worked with us on this, including through the office of our Community Liaison Officer, Hannah Shepherd, and the Community Engagement Task Force. We’re looking forward to the introduction of our new Student Pledge, about which we’ll be saying more come September. We hope this will be welcomed by residents.

The year has not been without challenges. Like all of us, we face continuing uncertainty over Brexit, and in the world of higher education we are awaiting the Government’s response to its Post-18 Education and Funding Review. But challenges are also a spur to action and I am pleased to say that we continue to work hard to attract the best students and researchers from across the world. It was also encouraging to see strong confidence in our Strategy from investors when we issued a £225 million private placement last summer.

I hope you have an enjoyable summer when the sun comes out (and even if it does not!) As always, if you have comments or suggestions on University-City relations, please get in touch by emailing: university.strategy@durham.ac.uk

This article was first published in the Durham Advertiser.