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Durham University

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The local benefits of global connections

(7 February 2020)

Our Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge explores the local benefits of having a world-class, globally-connected University here in Durham. 

The world is getting smaller, so they say. Perhaps we’ve been more aware of that than ever this week.

At Durham University we have long attracted both talented students and some of the best researchers and teachers from around the world here to the North East.

The Times Higher Education recently ranked us among the most international universities in the world. We hope you’re as proud of this as we are: that your local University is recognised worldwide for outstanding teaching and research.

We have staff and students from over 130 countries and our research spans the globe, including partnerships and projects in Africa, Asia and North America.

But, you may be wondering, how does this benefit you and your local community?

Cultural experiences

Firstly, we believe such diversity opens up opportunities for cultural experiences that we can all enjoy and benefit from. Last weekend, for example, many of our Chinese staff and students helped make Durham’s Lunar New Year celebrations a great success with traditional dancing, singing, storytelling and much more. 

If you missed out, join us for a spectacular Lantern Festival at the Oriental Museum on Saturday 8 February or pop into the Lunar New Year exhibition that runs until Sunday 16 February.

Business connections

Secondly, our global connections create opportunities for local businesses and support the local economy. It was because of our commitment to improving the lives of people around the world that entrepreneur Paul Lindley OBE, founder of the phenomenally successful baby food company Ella’s Kitchen, chose to work with Durham for his ‘Just Imagine If’ competition.

This is a global contest to find a business idea capable of addressing one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If you have an idea that could change the world, you have until Sunday 9 February to apply. There’s research and business support worth £100,000 on offer for the winner.

It was this kind of collaboration that so impressed the Universities Minister Chris Skidmore when he visited us last month. The Minister learned how our computer scientists are helping develop computer-driven cars, how we’re trialling new virtual reality technology to make our teaching and learning more inclusive and how we’re preparing women in the North and Midlands for work in the technology sector.

A stronger society

And thirdly, there are strong social benefits from being an international community. I have been very pleased to see the friendship that has developed between Ustinov College, our international postgraduate community, and its neighbours at Sheraton Park since the College relocated in 2017.

There have been shared art exhibitions, Christmas festivals, Halloween parties and the community room at the College truly is and feels like a shared space. 

Elsewhere, we recently worked with Durham County Council to deliver a Space Challenge day for local schools. Young people were challenged to build a prototype of an international space hotel and pitch for funds for their project from French and Spanish-speaking investors.

This helped build science and foreign language skills. Our own Dr Azadeh Fattahi was the day’s keynote speaker, inspiring young people with her research in the world-leading Institute for Computational Cosmology, based here at Durham.

The post-Brexit world will no doubt bring new challenges and opportunities for all of us. But whatever the next phase in our history holds, I am clear on this: we at Durham University are immensely proud of the contributions of all our staff and students, whatever their background and nationality, and we believe being an international community is beneficial for everyone. 

A very happy Year of the Rat to you all.