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Profile picture of Professor Karen OBrien Vice Chancellor of Durham University

Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O'Brien reflects on our future development, short and long term.

2032 marks Durham University’s 200th anniversary. With that landmark approaching, we’ve been taking some time to think about what the University is here for and, half-way through our ten-year strategy, how we should be developing over the next five years – and beyond. I’d like to use this column to share some of this thinking with you.  

Our values

Our purpose is to enrich lives and change the world through the advancement of learning – virtually unchanged from when we were founded in 1832. 

We achieve this by: inspiring and supporting our staff and students to create and translate knowledge and enhance understanding, locally and globally; and promoting inclusivity, civic responsibility, sustainability, social wellbeing and prosperity for the benefit of present and future generations. 

Locally and regionally, we want to be a leader in the city and region on cultural and economic development, social impact and innovation. We want to work with people and organisations in the region further, see greater student entrepreneurship, and drive growth.  

We’re determined to widen access to Durham University, welcoming more students from less advantaged backgrounds; plan to relocate our world-leading Business School to the Waterside Building in Durham city centre; want to develop a new science facility on our Mountjoy campus; will support the new Durham Mathematics School, a specialist sixth form; and are looking to develop an exciting and creative Cultural Quarter at Elvet Waterside. 

Student housing

In all this, we will be mindful of our place, size and shape. Any city has a limit on the numbers of students that can reasonably be accommodated. We will manage our student numbers and accommodation mindful of our impact on Durham – not growing our overall student body significantly, but adjusting our mix of students so that we have higher proportions of postgraduate and international students, and are more diverse.   

We remain committed to our collegiate model, and aim for 40-45% of our full-time students who are taught in Durham to live in University-managed accommodation.  

Future development

Sustainability is at the heart of our strategy. We are aiming for Net Zero by 2035 – switching to renewable energy sources, minimising waste and promoting recycling, reuse and sustainable transport; and also achieving a net biodiversity gain by 2032.  

We will do more to drive prosperity in the North-East, supporting commercialisation of research, spin-out companies and innovation, for the economy of tomorrow.  

Our fundamental goals remain the same: to deliver world-leading and world-changing research and engagement; education that is challenging, enabling, research-led and transformative; and a transformative wider student experience delivering long-lasting benefits for our graduates and society as a whole. In our city and region, we want to be an anchor institution, driving innovation and growth.  

As we approach 200 years, we look forward to working with our city and region more closely than ever before.  

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