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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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A year of Covid - thanks for your support

(4 March 2021)

We're hugely grateful for the support and co-operation of our neighbours and partners during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge reflects on a 'year of Covid'. Plus some good news on league tables. 

It has been a year of solemn milestones and far too many stories of loss and hardship. Soon, we will reach another: 12 months since the beginning of Lockdown 1 – a ‘year of Covid’.

At Durham University we have sought to take responsible decisions in a fast-moving environment, but always putting the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, students and the wider community first. We quickly established a Covid Planning Group to lead our internal planning and response. And we have worked consistently with partners, including through the Local Resilience Forum, to contribute to the local and regional effort.

Happily, there are now strong signs of light at the end of the tunnel. More and more of us are being vaccinated. Testing – including the Lateral Flow Testing that we piloted on campus as far back as October – is now widespread, and we have a Roadmap from the UK Government that we hope will lead us out of lockdown.

There is also much yet to be confirmed. Government has not yet approved a large-scale return of students to university campuses after Easter. We expect to learn more around the end of the first week of April.

Our planning, however, is well underway and I want to share news of that with you now, so that you know how we will seek to move should government approval be forthcoming.

Our planning: to Easter and beyond

For the remainder of the current Term, our plans are unchanged: with very few exceptions, all our teaching remains online.

Our third, or Easter, Term begins on Monday 26th April and we have no intention of encouraging students to return en masse to Durham before then, or before appropriate Government permissions are granted.

If and when students do return for their studies - and we recognise that many of our students already need to be in the City for a host of reasons - we expect teaching to take place both online and in-person. We operated this ‘blended learning’ model during the autumn and saw no evidence of Covid-19 transmission in our Covid-secure teaching environments, nor into the wider community.

As always, we will be reminding students of the Covid-19 restrictions in place and their responsibilities to themselves and to others to act and behave safely – part of which is getting tested twice weekly.

We also aim to offer the best possible end to an academic year which has been radically altered by Covid-19. We hope, subject to Government guidelines and the advice of the local public health team, to make use of Lateral Flow Testing to offer Covid-secure enrichment activities, including sport, music, theatre and volunteering, as we move through Easter Term. These activities will be made available in various forms so that all students can participate, whether they are in Durham or elsewhere.

As I say, much depends on how the next few weeks and months turn out. The Government has made it very clear that the brakes can be applied to the Roadmap if necessary. We will continue to work closely with our local partners and share our planning through our community forums and networks. We are grateful for your ongoing co-operation and support.

League table success

Finally, another positive note to end on. This week has seen the announcement of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021. Like them or not, league tables matter – as any football manager will know.

The QS rankings are a vital measure of our success as an international university and I’m very pleased to report that we have two subjects placed in the world top 10 (archaeology, fourth; and theology and religion, fifth), another six subjects in the world top 50 and a further ten in the world top 100.

This is a huge achievement and one I hope that you, our neighbours and community partners, can be proud of, as well as a huge credit to our wonderful staff and students.