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Durham University

Durham University News


Durham appoints new Vice-Chancellor and Warden

(5 May 2021)

Prof Karen O'Brien

We are delighted to announce that Professor Karen O’Brien is to be our new Vice-Chancellor and Warden.

Inspiring leadership

For the last five years, Professor O’Brien has led the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford with great success. As a member of the University Council, she has been jointly responsible for the financial oversight, research strategy and equalities and access priorities of the University. During the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, she successfully managed the University’s preparations for operating safely during the current academic year.

Prior to joining Oxford, she was Vice-Principal for Education at King’s College London. She has held a number of national and international leadership roles, including serving on the international jury of the Institut Universitaire de France and as chair of the Russell Group Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Teaching and Learning. 

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, she has published widely on the literature and intellectual history of the Enlightenment. 

Building on success

Professor O’Brien will be our 25th Vice-Chancellor and will join us on 4 January 2022. She will succeed Professor Stuart Corbridge, who will retire on 31 July 2021. Between 1 August 2021 and 3 January 2022, Professor Antony Long, currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, will serve as Interim Vice-Chancellor and Warden.

Professor Stuart Corbridge joined us as Vice-Chancellor and Warden in September 2015, having previously served as Deputy Director and Provost at the London School of Economics (LSE).

In his six years at Durham, Professor Corbridge has led the reshaping of the University through our ‘University Strategy, 2017-2027’, which is transforming our research, education and wider student experience.

Joe Docherty, Chair of our governing University Council, said: “Professor O’Brien was our unanimous choice as our next Vice-Chancellor. She is an exceptional leader with a distinguished track-record in the University sector. Her depth and breadth of understanding and forward-thinking will help her to lead Durham University to even greater success.

He added: “We are deeply grateful to Professor Corbridge for his outstanding leadership through what has been a very turbulent and challenging few years for Higher Education in the UK, and wish him every happiness in his retirement. I am very pleased that Professor Antony Long will provide interim leadership of the University until Professor O’Brien takes up her position in early January 2022.”

“Honoured and thrilled”

Commenting on her appointment, Professor O’Brien said: “I am honoured and thrilled to be joining Durham University, which is distinguished for the excellence and impact of its research, the quality of its education and its Colleges and Wider Student Experience. 

“I am looking forward to leading and serving this great University as it approaches its 200th anniversary as a global community of learning.”

Inspiring the extraordinary

Durham University is a globally outstanding centre of teaching and research excellence, a collegiate community of extraordinary people, in a unique and historic setting. Inspiring our people to do outstanding things at Durham enables Durham people to do outstanding things in the world.

We are currently ranked 86th in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2021 and fourth in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2021.

We have over 4,300 staff, a total student population of over 20,000 and nearly £400m in income. There are four faculties, 26 departments, ten research institutes and 17 distinct Colleges. Our alumni community numbers in excess of 185,000 graduates based in countries all over the world.

Read Professor O’Brien’s biography.


Find out more

- Meet our senior leadership team

- Discover more about our University Strategy, 2017-2027

- Apply to study with us for 2021/22