Durham spends £4000 on Vice-Chancellor’s private rent while renovating Hollingside House


Durham University spent £4000 on renting private accommodation for the Vice-Chancellor in the 2022/2023 academic year while they refurbished Hollingside House – where her permanent residence is located.

The University said, “The Vice-Chancellor’s accommodation was not ready for occupation when she started in January 2022. The University rented temporary accommodation for the first three months of her tenure, and she continued in the same accommodation in a private capacity for a further period before taking up residence in a flat in Hollingside House on 1 September.

“The flat is within a University-owned property and has an annual estimated value of £12,000.”

Durham also pays the Vice-Chancellor’s utility bills, as Hollingside features both the Vice-Chancellor’s official residence and the main house: a University facility for hosting the Vice-Chancellor’s events and visitors. 

“The Vice-Chancellor’s accommodation was not available for occupation when she started in January 2022”

durham university

Figures obtained by Palatinate in 2020 found that Hollingside House was last renovated in 2016 at a cost of £700,000. This included spending £43,200 on an architect, £16,752 on an interior designer, and £3,792 on a bat survey.

In 2020, Jennifer Sewel, University Secretary at Durham University, said: “Hollingside House is owned by Durham University and is used for business purposes, including meetings and events. The Vice-Chancellor lives in a two-bedroomed flat attached to the House, where he also maintains an office.

“The money spent on Hollingside House in 2015-2017 was to address issues of rising damp, undertake major works to the roof and for general refurbishment and decoration as part of a planned programme. No major capital expenditure has been undertaken since.”

It is unknown how much the most recent refurbishment cost. The University’s annual financial report for 2021/2022, also shows that O’Brien also received £2000 in relocation expenses, on top of £4000 towards her rent, and £164,000 for her work from 1 January 2022 to 31 July 2022. 

In the 2022/2023 report, Durham said: “As well as their basic pay, the postholder is eligible to join the USS. Should the post holder not wish to be a member, the University will pay life assurance premiums and an Additional Remuneration Allowance (ARA) on the same basis as all other employees who opt out of pension scheme membership, to compensate for the loss of full employer pension contributions.”

Some other roles at Durham, such as Heads of Colleges and their families, also have accommodation provided as part of their employment contracts. However, this is not true for others on much lower salaries. For example, college sabbatical officers are generally offered accommodation – but they must pay for it.

“The post holder is provided with rent-free accommodation to enable the better performance of their duties”

durham university

Durham University said: “The post holder is provided with rent-free accommodation to enable the better performance of their duties. From April 2021 this has been deemed a taxable benefit. The accommodation is a flat within a larger University-owned building. There are no other emoluments paid to the post-holder.”

The cost of the most recent refurbishment is unknown.

A spokesperson for Durham University told Palatinate: “The University is a large and complex institution with over 4,300 FTE staff and more than 22,000 students. It has an annual turnover of almost £460m per annum and has embarked upon an ambitious ten-year strategy including a programme of extensive estate refurbishment and new development totalling some £750m.

“Net growth of 330 new academic staff and up to 4,000 additional students is scheduled over the ten-year strategy period. The University generates £1.2bn GVA, two thirds of which accrues to the North East of England. Durham is a top six UK university and a world top 100 university (QS World Rankings 2023) with a global reputation for excellence in research and education.

“Students from over 150 countries study at Durham and 40% of staff are of non-UK origin. Its students benefit from a world-leading wider student experience which combines academic excellence and a commitment to produce highly motivated, well-rounded and socially engaged leaders of tomorrow.

“A member of the prestigious Russell Group, the University produces world-leading research across the Arts and Humanities, Business, Science and Social Sciences, with subjects such as Theology and Archaeology ranked in the Top 10 in the world (QS 2022).

“The Vice-Chancellor’s salary is reviewed annually in accordance with our published pay policy by independent members of the Remuneration Committee. This includes external benchmarking and consideration of the scale, complexity, and performance of the University. Competitive salary packages are essential to attract and retain outstanding staff in senior leadership roles.”


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