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

Our new Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Professor Karen O’Brien, introduces herself and acknowledges two current initiatives that demonstrate how the University can benefit and is benefitting the North-East.

I am the new Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, and I am delighted and honoured to join a university with such a long and outstanding reputation for the quality of its education, research and wider student experience, and a keen sense of community.

I’m also excited to be working in a city and region that have been one of the world’s great learning communities for hundreds of years. I am by background a scholar of English literature, and I enjoy nothing more than talking about books such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to schools, students and national audiences. I hope I can still find time to share the insights and joy of literature while doing this busy job.

I have only been in post for a few weeks, and have had wonderful experience starting to get to know the University, the city, the Cathedral, the region and some of our key partners in the County Council, businesses, and fellow universities in the area. I am going to continue spending time getting to know and consulting people across the University, and beyond, about where our strengths lie and where and how it would be good to make changes.

We want to work closely with our city and its residents to learn from each other and make sure that our university is open to all. For example, last week I had the pleasure of attending the re-opening of the historic Cosin’s Library in Palace Green. Around 350 years ago, it was the first public library in the North-East and now the University has opened this treasure trove of intruiging and precious books to everyone once again.

We also need to ensure that Durham University is fully open to all students with the potential to benefit from our education, and that our educational work is a still greater catalyst for attainment in the North-East and beyond.

UK City of Culture 2025 and 'Levelling Up' strategy

In this, my first column, I wanted to mention two initiatives that demonstrate how the University can benefit and is benefitting the North-East.

First, we’re proud to be supporting Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025. The University welcomes staff and students from over 120 countries, is home to world-class museums and collections, is a hub of sport, theatre, music and art, and our students undertake 50,000 recorded hours of volunteering every year.

Being named UK City of Culture would benefit our whole County, turning a national and international spotlight on the area’s rich landscape, heritage and culture. Please give the bid your backing at

The same day Durham submitted its UK City of Culture bid, the Government announced its ‘Levelling Up’ strategy. We’re already developing the Durham Mathematics School, which will support talented students who would not otherwise have access to post-16 mathematics education, and partnering in the Laidlaw Teaching and Learning Centre at Sedgefield Community College, which will be a hub for training secondary school teachers, to name just two projects.

But we want to do more, and look forward to future discussions on this important agenda.

Finally, on a personal note, I hope that the coming weeks and months will allow us to emerge and reconnect. I look forward to meeting and working with many of you, as we take Durham’s University forward to our 200th anniversary in 2032.