In an interview with Palatinate, Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge has endeavoured to reassure students, staff and alumni that the University is “not walking away from the residential experience at Durham”.
The comments came after Palatinate revealed last week that papers drafted by Professors Antony Long and Alan Houston for consideration by the University Executive Committee (UEC) contained plans for a “a significant refocusing of the University’s education strategy” that would seek to increase “participation in innovative programmes that are primarily taught online”.
However, speaking to Palatinate, Professor Corbridge said that “the core offer that Durham has and will have is a collegiate residential offer based here in Durham”.
“The huge investments we’ve made, the Teaching and Learning Centre, Maiden Castle, we’ve got two colleges about to open including a new one, a Maths and Computer Science centre – you don’t make those investments if you’re going to walk away from your core offer.
“the core offer that Durham has and will have is a collegiate residential offer based here in Durham”Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge
“We all understand that the vast majority of students that engage with Durham want to come to Durham – they want the wider student experience, as well as the education that we offer.”
Professor Corbridge stated that plans to move teaching online were principally a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We hope very much and are planning that freshers will arrive at the end of September and teaching will start in October – that’s our hope, not just for home students but for some or all of our international students.
“However, we don’t know whether Covid-19 will come back, we might get a second or third wave of the virus in the winter months. That means we have to plan, responsibly, for having our core offer online from 5th October. Colleagues across the university are being asked to do that at the moment.
“Essentially we had an experiment in the tenth week of Epiphany term [when Durham University ceased in-person teaching due to Coronavirus] – my sense is that colleagues stepped up very well at incredibly short notice right across the University, from humanities to science. What will happen over a six-month period from April to October is that people will reflect on what they did in that one week and see what improvements they can make.
“Across the University everybody, to the best of my knowledge, really had a go, and probably have convinced themselves that they can do this. In addition, obviously the University is there to support them.”
“over a six-month period from April to October is that people will reflect on what they did in that one week”Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge
According to Professor Corbridge, the motivation behind the proposals is not fundamentally financial, but aimed at ensuring Durham can continue to teach students even in the event that lockdown restrictions are not altogether lifted. “The reason for asking colleagues to have a minimum viable product, a basic form of online education ready for October, is not about money, but our ability to deliver an education at all.”
However, he acknowledged that Durham is particularly dependent on income from students’ tuition and accommodation fees compared to other Russell Group Universities (who make more money from research or endowments), and that online teaching methods provided an opportunity to diversify revenue streams. “Over time it’ll take a few years to scale up a non-residential offer.”
Professor Corbridge said that the development of a “non-residential offer” would be on a collaborative basis, factoring in staff and student concerns. “The first paper [‘Redesigning Durham’s Educational Offer’] which went to the UEC was then discussed with Heads of Departments. This led to a really quite different paper, ‘Unbound Education’, which will come to Senate tomorrow [22nd April].
“The fact we’ve moved from version one to version two shows that colleagues do listen very much to staff concerns. We go from UEC, reach out to Heads of Department, go to Senate, then to Council. At each stage, the paper changes.”
Professor Corbridge said that students would be consulted in accordance with the Student Consultation Framework developed by the Students’ Union.
Image: Durham University