Skip to main content

Professor Karen O'Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, stood smiling with arms folded, in front of bookshelves

Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O'Brien reflects on her first term at Durham and shares some upcoming opportunities.

It’s hard to believe, but our first term of 2022 is nearly over. Teaching ends on Friday 18 March and our undergraduates will begin a five-week break, as they complete assignments, prepare for exams and take some rest.

So it seems a good point to share a few highlights from the term, along with some opportunities for you to get involved with the University in the weeks ahead.

International Women's Day: Break the Bias

Last week we joined with people around the world in marking International Women’s Day and I was very pleased to join a panel with senior University colleagues, Durham Constabulary Chief Constable Jo Farrell, County Durham Community Foundation Chief Executive Michelle Cooper and East Durham College Principal Suzanne Duncan for a ‘Meet the Women Levelling Up in the North East’ event.

This brought together two important agendas for us: equality and economic development – both areas where the University can be a driving force for progress in our city, county and region. Michelle also shared about the scale and impact of the work the Foundation is doing to support a wide range of charities that provide help to women in our community.

Many of our researchers are actively working for change in these areas: from Dr Stacey Pope, who has done fantastic work in exposing misogyny in sport, to Prof Lynda Boothroyd, who has powerfully highlighted the impact playing with ultra-thin dolls can have on young girls’ body image.

Cultural highlights

This term has thankfully allowed us to be together again and stage and support a number of successful cultural events, including Durham Drama Festival, Year of the Tiger celebrations, Student Volunteering Week and, just last weekend, the colourful Holi celebrations at our Oriental Museum.

All of these provide further evidence as to why Durham should be chosen as the UK’s City of Culture 2025; and we have our fingers crossed for the shortlist announcement soon. 

Continuing on a culture theme: if you’re looking for family activities over Easter, our Team Durham Sports Camps will return; while the Oriental Museum is hosting an exhibition on Japanese storytelling and Cosin’s Library, part of Palace Green Library, will be reopening in mid-April.

We’re looking forward to welcome prospective new students for open days on March 22 and 23 and holding our first in-person graduation ceremonies since 2020 from March 28 to April 1.

Working with our local communities

Our strategy is to enhance the standing of Durham as a world-leading university while also developing closer links with our local communities. We’re proud of the positive contribution we make to the city, county and region.

We appreciate that, as with any university city, there will sometimes be issues for us to work through. Last week I attended a meeting of the Durham University and Residents Forum for the first time. We welcome feedback via this Forum, our Community Engagement Task Force and our Community Liaison Manager, Rebecca Eves.

Recently we’ve been working with Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary and others on a new procedure for reporting and responding to anti-social noise. Please visit our Community web pages for details.

It has been a busy and very interesting first term for me as Vice-Chancellor. I have met many people, in the University and beyond, and am grateful for such a warm welcome. I look forward to working with neighbours and partners further in the weeks and months ahead.

First published in the Durham Advertiser: Thursday 17 March, 2022.