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Moving with the times

It may seem similar to the classic Oxbridge model, but Durham's new 10-year strategy proves it isn't resting on its laurels.

Posted by Rianna Newman | July 25, 2017 | Facilities

To think of Durham University is to think of a classic, established, British institution, with glorious and imposing architecture, and a rich history. And certainly, all of this is right on the money. The collegiate layout of the University is reminiscent of the classic Oxbridge model, and Durham Cathedral was even used to film scenes of Hogwarts for Harry Potter – you can’t get more British than that!

However, to be established doesn’t mean to be stagnant, especially for Durham, which has just issued a new 10-year strategy and budget. Detailing various elements of university life, the new strategy has a definite focus on the complete student experience. As is becoming ever more clear in the HE sector, gone are the days of a university that thrives on one feature of excellence alone; with the incredible amount of worldwide competition and soaring fees, every institution is now held to higher standards than ever. 

Durham University could easily bury its head in the sand, and suitably survive for a few more decades on its reputation alone. However, far from resting on its laurels, it has risen to the challenge of the modern university, and put all its energy into expanding, improving and future-proofing the institution. Officially established in 1832, Durham is England’s third oldest university, and seventh oldest in the whole UK. During its 185-year history, the University has had many notable alumni, including George Alagiah, Gabby Logan and Jeremy Vine to drop just a few famous names, and is always looking towards its next generation of graduates.

Commenting on the student experience at Durham University, current Computer Science undergraduate Soumya Singh said: “The University has benefited me a lot personally. I have been guided very well, both professionally and in other areas. I appreciate the system of college mentors a lot and I’m glad that I can be part of whatever sport I can think of.”

And indeed, it is this well-rounded and inclusive experience of which Durham is so proud, and keen to protect.

Professor Stuart Corbridge (VC of Durham)

Research and Teaching

To mark the launch of the new strategy, and as a part of the investment for the University’s research futures, Durham has announced major new funding for PhDs and post-doctoral research. Investments have been increased by £2.8m each year, to allow for a new scheme titled ‘Chancellor’s Scholarships’. The scholarships will be available across disciplines, to allow for continued research and to further develop the University’s positive impact on global, national and regional challenges.

Commenting on the announcement of the Chancellor’s Scholarships, Professor Claire Warwick, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Durham University, said: “The Chancellor’s Scholarships is a very exciting initiative. PhD studentships are often the basis of new discoveries, particularly in science. These scholarships will allow some of the very brightest undergraduate students to carry on doing research, and we hope they will be the next generation of world-leading researchers.”

Research is, of course, a global issue, and Durham University is keen to maintain its international standing despite the UK’s exit from the EU. In fact, one of the core pillars of the new strategy includes a commitment to internationalising the University, with ‘more staff and students from overseas, the opening of an International Study Centre, and strengthened links with peer institutions around the world’. 

As a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, Durham is well known for its research excellence, reflected in this year’s Complete University Guide, where its research quality was rated as 3.14 out of 4. However, with the implementation of the new strategy, the University is also keen to focus on not only maintaining high standards of current teaching, but also to research new teaching methods and techniques.

A new Centre for Teaching and Learning, and an Education Laboratory will be financed in order for there to be a focused avenue for development in this area. 

Living and Working

As well as an educational institution, modern universities also exist as fully functioning communities for their students and staff. Durham takes this role especially seriously, and operates a collegiate system that encourages students to form their own communities, and invests heavily in staff development and training.

In terms of student experience, the new strategy has committed to building a new facility for Durham Students’ Union, improving facilities at Maiden Castle, and developing new colleges. This latter initiative means that the University will be able to ensure that more students live in college education, adding to the strength of Durham’s collegiate spirit and community. On the topic of the format of the University, and the way the colleges function, Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge says, “We are a collegiate University, an historic University, a University that values the wider student experience as much as we value education and research.”

As well as providing an all-round positive experience for students during their time studying at the University, Durham is also a large employer in the area, with around 8,800 staff in addition to its 17,500-strong student body. Durham graduates are also an important part of the local area and beyond, with a recent report revealing that Durham University is worth £1.1bn to the UK economy, supporting 13,600 jobs, and Durham graduates adding almost £300m per year to the UK economy as a result of having studied at the University. 

Embracing Change

The introduction to the new strategy by the Vice-Chancellor begins with a positive reference to the future of the University, and its willingness to ‘embrace change’. The introduction goes on to state that the strategy identifies ‘key areas for improvement’, and that ‘some of these actions involve radical change’. The total investment the University has proposed for the coming decade amounts to £700m, including investments in both people and infrastructure.

So what does the future look like for Durham University? Alongside a continuation of their dedication to an inclusive and welcoming community, world-leading research, and a beautiful historic campus, the University is set to welcome both digital and physical developments, meaning that their competitive academic and societal offerings will last long into the coming decades.

The strength of a university is built not only on its stable foundations, but also on its ability to weather the storms of change and evolution, and Durham’s standing in this arena seems to be nothing if not enduring.

Did you know?

  • Officially established in 1832, Durham is England's third oldest university, and seventh older in the UK.
  • Durham is made up of 16 distinctive colleges, which form both educational and residential communities.
  • During its 185 year history, the university has had many notable alumni, including George Alagiah, Gabby Logan and Jeremy Vine.

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