The vice-chancellor of Durham University has outlined plans to “reposition” the institution, creating 300 new academic jobs and recruiting thousands of additional students over the next decade.
Speaking to Times Higher Education as Durham launched a new 10-year strategy, Stuart Corbridge said that he was certain that the university was “distinctive” enough from its Russell Group peers to be able to attract new faculty and students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, to the North East of England, despite the long-standing draw of the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London for international scholars.
Durham is proposing to invest £700 million over 10 years to expand its excellence in local, national and global research and to internationalise the university with, in Professor Corbridge’s words, “more staff and students from overseas, the opening of an International Study Centre [on the Queen’s campus in Stockton] and strengthened links with peer institutions around the world”.
This comes after Durham, one of the smallest and newest members of the Russell Group, took the decision last year to transfer its medical school to Newcastle University, as part of a repurposing of the Queen’s campus.
“We’re planning to reposition Durham somewhat: we are one of the smallest members of the Russell Group, we don’t have a medical school, so we’re quite distinctive,” Professor Corbridge acknowledged. “We have said that there are certain subjects where we don’t have critical research mass in the way we would like. We do [have critical mass] in geography and physics – they’re huge, prospering departments – but we think we can significantly expand law, politics, the business school, English [and] history.
“In terms of [recruiting] faculty, we’re not seeing anything that will make us nervous. In fact, we’ve had a very extensive hiring round, and we’ve attracted people from across the European Union and internationally. I’m genuinely confident that we can attract people to the North East.”
He added that Durham would be hiring “very significantly” over the 10-year period, creating an extra 300 academic posts.
“That growth of the faculty will propel a reduction in staff-to-student ratios, so we’re looking at a baseline figure that we will increase from 17,500 students now to no more than 21,500 in 10 years’ time,” he said. “We know that we could bring more than 5,000 students to Durham next year without reducing our grades, [but] we’re not going to simply increase the number of students coming because they’re out there.”
The launch of the strategy was marked by the announcement of an extra £2.8 million per year in support for PhD students. Professor Corbridge said that the university had set itself a target for every full-time academic member of staff to have a couple of PhD students under their guidance in 10 years’ time, which will “take us towards the top third of the Russell Group” but also, more importantly, expand the UK’s academic base.
“The reason we’re doing this is because they are the next generation of researchers and scholars,” he said. “It makes sense for us, but also for UK higher education. We’ve got to get the new PhDs coming through.
“In terms of what they do afterwards, it would be great if the very best ones, in open competition, get jobs with us. But if they get jobs at other UK or international universities, I think we would’ve succeeded just as well.”