Durham University appoints first female Vice-Chancellor


Professor Karen O’Brien has been appointed as Durham University’s new Vice-Chancellor and Warden, becoming Durham’s first ever female Vice-Chancellor.

Prof. O’Brien, who is currently Head of the Humanities Division and Professor in the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford, will take up her position on 4th January 2022, with current Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge set to retire on 31st July this year.

Current Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, Professor Antony Long, will take up the position of interim Vice-Chancellor in between those dates.

In an email to all students and staff, Chair of Durham University Council Joe Docherty said O’Brien was appointed following “an extensive and competitive international recruitment process.”

Docherty also highlighted O’Brien’s successes in overseeing Oxford University’s preparations for operating safely during the current academic year, as well as her prioritisation of equalities and access.

The selection panel for the new Vice-Chancellor, which included the President of Durham Students’ Union (DSU), Seun Twins, was impressed by Professor O’Brien’s “proven record of success in building strong partnerships and relationships and her experience of driving forward culture change, as well as strategies for equality and diversity”.

Talking about O’Brien’s role at Durham, Docherty said: “As our 25th Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Professor O’Brien’s role will be to lead and work with our staff, students and alumni to build on our strengths and successes in our core areas of research, education and student experience and to build and enhance our global reputation.

“Central to this will be her commitment to foster a diverse, inclusive and respectful environment in which our University community can thrive.”

Docherty went on to say, “Professor O’Brien was our unanimous choice as our next Vice-Chancellor. She is an exceptional leader with a distinguished track-record in the University sector. Her depth and breadth of understanding and forward-thinking will help her to lead Durham University to even greater success.

“We are deeply grateful to Professor Corbridge for his outstanding leadership through what has been a very turbulent and challenging few years for Higher Education in the UK, and wish him every happiness in his retirement,” he continued.

“I am very pleased that Professor Antony Long will provide interim leadership of the University until Professor O’Brien takes up her position in early January 2022.”

Commenting on her appointment, Professor O’Brien said: “I am honoured and thrilled to be joining Durham University, which is distinguished for the excellence and impact of its research, the quality of its education and its Colleges and Wider Student Experience.  

“I am looking forward to leading and serving this great University as it approaches its 200th anniversary as a global community of learning.”

Professor Stuart Corbridge joined Durham University as Vice-Chancellor and Warden in September 2015, having previously served as Deputy Director and Provost at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Image: Durham University

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