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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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Much to celebrate, much to look forward to

(17 December 2019)

Durham University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge

As Christmas approaches, Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge reviews the Term just finished and looks ahead to 2020. 

Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Durham.

I’m sure many of you will have enjoyed one or more of the superb Christmas concerts on offer from our student musicians in the few weeks.

This year’s Durham Christmas Festival, which we co-host and help to organise, was a fantastic success, and I’m also pleased to say our Ustinov College students helped make Neville’s Cross Christmas Festival a lovely celebration for the whole community.

Much to celebrate

Our teaching Term ended last week and there is much from the last Term for us all to celebrate.

The Lumiere light festival, which we sponsored, was both a delight for those of us lucky enough to live and work here and a major boost for the local economy.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, over 6,000 visitors of all ages enjoyed our tenth annual hands-on science festival Celebrate Science.

Among many cultural highlights of the Term, our student actors presented a highly successful Lord of the Flies adaptation at the Gala Theatre and we have reopened our Assembly Rooms Theatre following a major refurbishment. I hope you will enjoy a production there soon.

We have just started work on an £8m project to improve foot and cycle paths around South Road, and we have introduced our Student Pledge, a simple, straightforward commitment from our students to the values that underpin life and study here.

There remains much work to do to ensure we all share in the benefits of having a thriving and growing world-class university here in Durham. But it is encouraging that our Community Engagement Task Force, a new group we set up last year to help us work together better, has voted to continue its work beyond its initial one-year remit.

The Task Force includes representatives of both the University and many other local organisations. Its five sub-groups are open to interested residents. Please contact: for more details.

Opening the doors to Durham University...

One major development for us this Term has been the opening of our Teaching and Learning Centre, on South Road.

The Centre represents a £40m investment in our education facilities, with 450 study spaces, nearly 200 computer laboratory spaces and top-of-the-range digital equipment. It has hosted nearly 4,000 hours of teaching in its debut Term, has been immediately popular with students, and last week our governing University Council visited for an official opening.

The Teaching and Learning Centre supports much of what we hope to achieve through the Community Engagement Task Force and working with partners in the City.

It will bring local economic benefits through increased capacity for events and conferences. It is contributing to the local cultural scene and a positive citizenship model for our students through the provision of extra space for our many and varied student societies. These groups have already used the Centre for nearly 2,000 hours of meetings and activities on evenings and weekends.

The Centre also supports our work to preserve and enhance our shared environment. It was designed very much with Durham’s World Heritage Site and conservation area in mind and its appearance provides an attractive feature in a prominent City gateway location. Finally, by combining teaching and study space in one location, the Teaching and Learning Centre reduces the need for students to travel between the city centre and Mountjoy, using routes which we know can be congested at peak times.

Most importantly, perhaps, it is not only a building for the students of today. As is clear from our most recent, and very ambitious, Access and Participation Plan, we are determined to do much more to attract students from the North East – particularly from neighbourhoods and families where attending higher education is not the norm.

The Teaching and Learning Centre has been designed to be an inclusive learning environment, where new technology is used to enable all students to achieve their full potential.

We have made some progress in this area already. Last year, for example, we started recording our lectures, so that students can listen again, supporting their understanding of a subject: a major help for students who have particular educational needs or conditions.

Right now, we’re experimenting with using virtual reality to help students in Durham and the USA learn together – broadening their horizons, introducing new perspectives and equipping them for what now is truly the “world” of work.

Happy Christmas

It is an exciting time and my hope is that in 2020 you will partner with us to make Durham the thriving place to live, work, study and visit that we all want it to be.

Thank you for your partnership with us in 2019 and may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.