Durham University

Durham University
Coat of arms of the university
Latin: Universitas Dunelmensīs
Other name
The University of Durham
MottoLatin: Fundamenta eius super montibus sanctis
Motto in English
Her foundations are upon the holy hills (Psalm 87:1)
TypePublic research university
Established1832; 192 years ago (1832) (university status)
Academic affiliations
Endowment£101.7 million (2023; exclusive of independent colleges)
Budget£483.6 million (2022/23)
ChancellorFiona Hill CMG
Vice-Chancellor & WardenKaren O’Brien
Academic staff
2,530 (2022/23)
Administrative staff
2,920 (2022/23)
Students19,520 (2019/20)
Undergraduates14,730 (2019/20)
Postgraduates4,790 (2019/20)
Campus257 hectares (640 acres)
Student newspaperPalatinate
Colours Palatinate
Sporting affiliations
BUCS, Wallace Group
Sports teamTeam Durham
Websitedurham.ac.uk Edit this at Wikidata
Official nameDurham Castle and Cathedral
Criteriaii, iv, vi
Designated1986 (10th session)
Reference no.370
RegionWestern Europe

Durham University (legally the University of Durham) is a collegiate public research university in Durham, England, founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832 and incorporated by royal charter in 1837. It was the first recognised university to open in England for more than 600 years, after Oxford and Cambridge, and is thus the third-oldest university in England. As a collegiate university, its main functions are divided between the academic departments of the university and its 17 colleges. In general, the departments perform research and provide teaching to students, while the colleges are responsible for their domestic arrangements and welfare.

The university is a member of the Russell Group of British research universities and is also affiliated with the regional N8 Research Partnership and international university groups including the Matariki Network of Universities and the Coimbra Group. The university estate includes 83 listed buildings, ranging from the 11th-century Durham Castle to the 1960s brutalist students' union. The university also owns and manages the Durham World Heritage Site in partnership with Durham Cathedral. The university's ownership of the world heritage site includes Durham Castle, Palace Green and the surrounding buildings including the historic Cosin's Library.

Current and emeritus academics as of 2018 included 15 Fellows of the Royal Society, 18 Fellows of the British Academy, 16 Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences, 5 Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 3 Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts, 2 Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and 2 Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Durham graduates have long used the Latin post-nominal letters Dunelm after their degree, from Dunelmensis (of, belonging to, or from Durham).

Among British universities, it had the tenth highest average UCAS Tariff for new entrants in 2021 and the third lowest proportion of state-school educated students starting courses in 2016, at 62.9 per cent (fifth lowest compared to its benchmark).



William van Mildert, Bishop of Durham and one of the founders of the university

Between around 1286 and 1291 the Benedictine monks of Durham established a hall at Oxford University to provide them with a seat of learning. In 1381 this received an endowment from Thomas Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, becoming Durham College. Durham College was surrendered to the Crown in 1545 following the Reformation. The strong tradition of theological teaching in Durham gave rise to various attempts to form a university within the city itself, notably under King Henry VIII and then under Oliver Cromwell, who issued letters patent and nominated a proctor and fellows for the establishment of a college in 1657. However, a proposal to allow the college to confer degrees met with opposition from Oxford and Cambridge universities, and the whole scheme was abandoned at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Consequently, it was not until 1832 when Parliament, at the instigation of Archdeacon Charles Thorp and with the support of the Bishop of Durham, William van Mildert, passed "an Act to enable the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral to appropriate part of the property of their church to the establishment of a University in connection therewith" (2 & 3 Will. 4. c. 19) that the university came into being. The act received royal assent from King William IV on 4 July 1832.

The church university, 1832–1909

An examination taking place in Cosin's Library, 1842
Durham Castle (gatehouse pictured) houses University College, making it one of the oldest buildings currently being used to house a university in the world

The university opened on 28 October 1833. In 1834 all but two of the bishops of the Church of England confirmed that they would accept holders of Durham degrees for ordination. In 1835 a fundamental statute was passed by the Dean and Chapter, as governors of the university, setting up Convocation and laying down that Durham degrees would only be open to members of the Church of England. Regulations for degrees were finalised in 1836 and the university was incorporated by royal charter granted by William IV on 1 June 1837 as the "Warden, Masters and Scholars of the University of Durham", with the first students graduating a week later. Accommodation was provided in the Archdeacon's Inn (now Cosin's Hall) from 1833 to 1837. On the accession of Queen Victoria an order of the Queen-in-Council was issued granting the use of Durham Castle (previously a palace of the Bishop of Durham) to the university.

In 1846, Bishop Hatfield's Hall (later to become Hatfield College) was founded, providing the opportunity for students to obtain affordable lodgings with fully catered communal eating, a revolutionary idea at the time, endorsed by a Royal Commission in 1862 and later spread to other universities. Those attending University College were expected to bring a servant with them to deal with cooking, cleaning and so on. The level of applications to Bishop Hatfield's Hall led to a second hall along similar lines, Bishop Cosin's Hall, being founded in 1851, although this only survived until 1864. Elsewhere, the university expanded from Durham into Newcastle in 1852 when the medical school there (established in 1834) became a college of the university. This was joined in 1871 by the College of Physical Sciences (renamed the College of Science in 1884 and again renamed Armstrong College in 1904). St Cuthbert's Society was founded in 1888 for non-collegiate, mostly mature, male students as a non-residential society run by the students themselves. Two teacher-training colleges – St Hild's for women, established in 1858, and The College of the Venerable Bede for men, established in 1839, also existed in the city and these merged to form the mixed College of St Hild and St Bede in 1975. From 1896 these were associated with the university and graduates of St Hild's were the first female graduates from Durham in 1898.

During its expansion phase the university also became the first English university to establish relationships with overseas institutions; firstly in 1875 with Codrington College, Barbados, and secondly in early 1876 with Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. Under the arrangements the two colleges became affiliated colleges of the university with their students sitting examinations for and receiving Durham degrees. The landmark event was not met with universal applause, with the London Times stating "it would not be much longer before the University of Durham was affiliated to the Zoo". After nearly a century of affiliation and with the prevailing winds of decolonisation, Fourah Bay became independent of the university in 1968 to form part of the University of Sierra Leone while Codrington College became affiliated to the University of the West Indies in 1965.

The first debating society in Durham was founded in 1835, but may have closed by 1839. The Durham University Union was established in 1842, and revived and moved to Palace Green in 1872–3 as the Durham Union Society. Notable past presidents of the Durham Union have included Richard Dannatt, Sir Edward Leigh, and Crispin Blunt.

The Durham Colleges Students Representative Council (SRC) was founded around 1900 after the model of the College of Medicine SRC (in Newcastle). The Durham University SRC was formed in 1907 with representatives from the Durham Colleges, the College of Medicine, and Armstrong College (also in Newcastle). In 1963, after the creation of Newcastle University, the Durham Colleges SRC became the Durham University SRC, and was renamed as the Durham Students' Union in 1970.

Until the mid 19th century, University of Durham degrees were subject to a religion test and could only be taken by members of the established church. Medical degrees in Newcastle were exempt from this requirement from the start of the affiliation of the medical school, but in Durham it lasted until the revision of the statutes in 1865. Despite the opening of degrees, staff and members of Convocation were still required to be members of the Church of England until the Universities Tests Act 1871. However, "dissenters" were able to attend Durham and then sit the examinations for degrees of the University of London, which were not subject to any religious test. Following the grant of a supplemental charter in 1895 allowing women to receive degrees of the university, the Women's Hostel (St Mary's College from 1919) was founded in 1899.

The federal university, 1909–1963

Durham University College of Medicine, Newcastle, now the Sutherland Building of Northumbria University
St Chad's College, one of the two independent colleges

The Newcastle division of the university, which comprised both Armstrong College (named after Lord Armstrong) and Durham University College of Medicine, quickly grew to outnumber the Durham colleges, despite the addition of two independent Anglican foundations: St Chad's College (1904) and St John's College (1909). A parliamentary bill proposed in 1907 would have fixed the seat of the university in Durham for only ten years, allowing the Senate to choose to move to Newcastle after this. This was blocked by a local MP[who?], with the support of graduates of the Durham colleges, until the bill was modified to establish a federal university with its seat fixed in Durham. This reform also removed the university from the authority of the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral, who had been the governors of the university since its foundation. Thirty years after this, the Royal Commission of 1937 recommended changes in the constitution of the federal university, resulting in the merger of the two Newcastle colleges in the Newcastle Division to form King's College. The Vice-Chancellorship alternated between the Warden of the Durham Division and the Rector of the Newcastle Division. (The legacy of this lives on, in that the de facto head of the university is still called "The Vice-Chancellor and Warden".)

After World War II, the Durham division expanded rapidly. St Aidan's Society (St Aidan's College from 1961) was founded in 1947 to cater for non-resident women and the decision was made to expand further on Elvet Hill (where the science site had been established in the 1920s), relocating St Mary's College, building new men's colleges, vastly expanding the existing pure science provision in Durham, and adding applied science (1960) and engineering (1965).

In 1947, the foundation stones for the new St Mary's College building on Elvet Hill were laid by Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II). The new building opened in 1952. In the same year, tensions surfaced again over the Durham-Newcastle divide, with a proposal to change the name of the university to the "University of Durham and Newcastle". This motion was defeated in Convocation (the assembly of members of the university) by 135 votes to 129. Eleven years later, with the Universities of Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne Act 1963, King's College became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, leaving Durham University based solely in its home city.

The modern university, 1963–1999

The lawn at St Mary's College, the first of the Hill colleges

By the time of the separation from Newcastle the Elvet Hill site was well established; with the first of the new colleges being founded in 1959, Grey College, named after the second Earl Grey who was the Prime Minister when the university was founded. Expansion up Elvet Hill continued, with Van Mildert College and the Durham Business School (1965), Trevelyan College (1966), and Collingwood College (1972) all being added to the university, along with a Botanic Garden (1970).

These were not the only developments in the university, however. The Graduate Society, catering for postgraduate students, was founded in 1965 (renamed Ustinov College in 2003) and the (now closed) Roman Catholic seminary of Ushaw College, which had been in Durham since 1808, was licensed as a hall of residence in 1968. In 1988 Hatfield, the last men's college, became mixed; followed by the women's college of Trevelyan in 1992, leaving the original women's college of St Mary's as the last single-sex college.

In 1989 the university started its fund-raising and alumni office, with a virtual community for alumni and several large gifts made to the university, including for the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, the Department of Physics and the Wolfson Research Institute.

Development in Stockton, 1992–1999

Ebsworth Building, Queen's Campus, Stockton

In 1991, a joint venture between the university and the University of Teesside saw the Joint University College on Teesside of the Universities of Durham and Teesside (JUCOT) established at Thornaby-on-Tees in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees and the ceremonial county of North Yorkshire, 30 miles (48 km) to the south of Durham. It opened under the name of University College Stockton (UCS) in 1992.

UCS was initially intended to grant joint degrees validated by both institutions (BAs and BScs). However, Teesside, which had only become a university in 1992, had difficulties in taking on its responsibilities for the college and withdrew in 1994, Durham taking over full responsibility for UCS and the degrees to be awarded there.

A programme of integration with Durham began, with the Privy Council approving changes in Durham's statutes to make UCS a college of the University of Durham. Further integration of the Stockton development with the university led to the formation of the University of Durham, Stockton Campus (UDSC) in 1998 and the separation of teaching responsibilities from UCS.

21st century

School of Government and International Affairs

In 2001, two new colleges, John Snow and George Stephenson (after the physician and the engineer) were established at Stockton, replacing UCS, and the new medical school (operating in association with the University of Newcastle upon Tyne) accepted its first students. In 2002, her golden jubilee year, the Queen granted the title "Queen's Campus" to the Stockton site. By 2005, Queen's Campus, Stockton, accounted for around 18 per cent of the total university student population.

In 2005, the university unveiled a re-branded logotype and introduced the trading name of Durham University, although the legal name of the institution remained the University of Durham and the official coat of arms was unchanged. The same year, St Mary's College had its first mixed undergraduate intake. In October 2006, Josephine Butler College opened its doors to students as Durham's newest college – the first purpose-built self-catering college for students within Durham. This was the first new college to open in Durham itself since the creation of Collingwood in the 1970s.

In May 2010, Durham joined the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) together with Dartmouth College (US), Queen's University (Canada), University of Otago (New Zealand), University of Tübingen (Germany), University of Western Australia and Uppsala University (Sweden). In 2012, Durham (along with York, Exeter and Queen Mary, University of London) joined the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities.

Between 2010 and 2012 the university was criticised for accepting funds from controversial sources, including the government of Iran, the US State Department, the prime minister of Kuwait, and British American Tobacco.

Closure of Queen's Campus and expansion in Durham

The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, next to the Department of Physics

The university announced in 2016 that it would relocate the colleges and academic activities currently at the Queen's Campus to Durham City from 2017; with the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health being transferred to Newcastle University. The Queen's Campus became an International Study Centre to prepare overseas students to study at Durham, run by Study Group.

In March 2017 Lord Rees opened the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, designed by Daniel Libeskind. The new building, named after alumnus Peter Ogden, provides extra laboratories and office space for 140 staff. In May 2017 the university announced a new ten-year strategy that proposed investing £700m in improving the campus, creating 300 new academic posts, increasing the size of the university to 21,500 students while attracting more international students, and expanding the business school and the departments of law, politics, English and history to reach "critical research mass".

In 2018 the university announced that a consortium led by Interserve would design, build and operate two colleges at Mount Oswald (new buildings for John Snow College and one new college) for £105 million. The project company (in which the university has a 15 per cent stake) is financing the construction via a £90 million 46-year bond issue. Separately, the university announced that it had raised £225 million to fund its estate masterplan through the private sale of long-term bonds to British and US investors. In 2021 it was reported that there was a culture of sexism and bullying at Durham, and that the university had been reluctant to address structural problems, thereby enabling this culture to develop relatively unchallenged.


Durham University owns a 257 ha (640-acre) estate of which 251 ha (620 acres) is in Durham. This contains part of the Durham Castle and Cathedral UNESCO World Heritage Site and multiple other heritage assets including three ancient monuments (the Maiden Castle Iron Age promontory fort, Cosin's Library and Divinity House), four grade I listed buildings (including Kingsgate Bridge, the Exchequer Building on Palace Green, the gatehouse, keep, north range and west range of Durham Castle, and multiple listings covering surviving sections of the castle walls around the north of the castle and along the top of the river bank behind Hatfield College and St Cuthbert's Society) and 79 grade II or II* listed buildings. As of 2023, the estate in Durham includes 112 ha (280 acres) of woodland scrub (with 46 ha (110 acres) of woodland designated as Areas of High Landscape Value, including the 32.4 ha (80 acres) of Great High Wood, Hollingside Wood and Blaid's Wood additionally designated as Ancient Semi-Natural Woodlands, Sites of Nature Conservation Importance and Sites of Ecological Value), 53 ha (130 acres) of farming and grazing land, and 27 ha (67 acres) of amenity grassland, alongside 51.4 ha (127 acres) of built environment. The estate also includes the Queen's Campus in Stockton-on-Tees.

One of the major public attractions in Durham City is the 10 ha (25-acre) Botanic Gardens, established (on the current site) in 1970, with over 80,000 visitors annually. As of 2021, the university estate contains over 380 buildings with a floor area of 424,600 square metres (4,570,000 sq ft), including 189,400 square metres (2,039,000 sq ft) of residential area in 170 residential buildings (not including the independent St Chad's and St John's colleges, which are not owned by the university). The insurance reinstatement value was estimated as close to £850 million in 2014.

Durham City

Hatfield College, one of the five colleges along the Bailey

Durham City is the main location of the university and contains all of the colleges along with most of the academic departments. The Durham City estate is spread across several different sites.

The Bailey is the historic centre of the university and contains five colleges as well as the departments of Music and of Theology and Religion, the Institute of Advanced Study and Palace Green Library, housing the university's special collections. The Bailey is linked to Dunelm House, home of the Students Union in New Elvet, by the university's Kingsgate Bridge.

Old Elvet is the home of a number of departments

The Old and New Elvet areas contain a number of departments in Humanities and Social Sciences including Philosophy, and Sociology. The Leazes Road site on the north bank of the Wear, opposite the university's Racecourse playing fields and Old Elvet, is home to the School of Education and Hild Bede College. Old Elvet was previously the site of the university's administration in Old Shire Hall; since September 2012, the administration has been based in the Palatine Centre on the Mountjoy site.


The Palatine Centre on the Mountjoy Campus, home of the university's administration

The Mountjoy site (formerly the Science site) south of New Elvet contains the vast majority of departments and large lecture theatres such as Appleby, Scarborough, James Duff, Heywood and more recently the Calman Learning Centre (opened 2007) and the Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre (opened 2019), along with the main Bill Bryson library.

Elvet Hill

Sheraton Park, site of a former teacher training college and home to Ustinov College since 2017

Elvet Hill, south of the Mountjoy site, has ten of the colleges as well as the Botanic Garden and the Vice-Chancellor's residence in Hollingside House. It is also home to the Business School and the department of Government and International Affairs, as well as the Teikyo University of Japan in Durham and the Oriental Museum.

As part of the transfer of colleges from the Queen's Campus in 2017, a number of colleges changed location. Stephenson College moved to the site at Howlands Farm (also on Elvet Hill) previously occupied by Ustinov College. Ustinov itself moved to a new site at Sheraton Park in Neville's Cross from the 2017/18 academic year. For a transition period, John Snow and Stephenson were both located at Howlands Farm during the 2018/19 academic year.

Mount Oswald
South (left) and John Snow (right) colleges on the Mount Oswald site

Two new colleges opened in 2020 at the site of the former Mount Oswald golf course on Elvet Hill. John Snow moved into one of these colleges, with the other forming the new South College, the university's 17th college. The new colleges at Mount Oswald have around 500 self-catered rooms each. As of 2016, when bids were solicited for the construction, the first 700 rooms were hoped to be available for the 2019/20 academic year and the remaining 300 by the 2021/22 academic year. Construction began in September 2018, with "Hub building" expected to be ready for 2019/20 but the first students not expected to move into the new accommodation until the 2020/21 academic year. John Snow college moved out of Howlands in 2019/20, and was located for one year at Rushford Court (the former County Hospital, now owned by Unite Students) in the viaduct area of the city before moving to Mount Oswald for 2020/21.

Development plans

The university published a strategy document in 2017 setting out (among other things) a roadmap for development of the estate over the period to 2027, including the development of a new home for the business school at Elvet Waterside (Old Elvet), to open in 2021, the redevelopment of the arts and humanities facilities at Elvet Riverside (New Elvet), opening from 2022, the construction of four to six new colleges, and the continued development of the Mountjoy site.

The plans for New Elvet were contingent on the university being granted a "Certificate of Immunity from Listing" for the current student union building, Dunelm House, which would allow it to be demolished. However, following a recommendation of listing by Historic England, multiple appeals and a multi-year campaign by the Twentieth Century Society against government decisions in 2016 and 2017 not to list the building, Dunelm House was given a Grade II listing in 2021.

Proposals for a £75 million new business school on Elvet Waterside were submitted for planning permission in 2019. However, this had not been granted by 2022. The university instead decided to purchase the Waterside Building, Durham County Council's newly-built headquarters at the Sands, north of the city centre, after the new county leadership (following the 2021 elections) decided to sell it. The purchase went though for £84 million in late 2022.

The university's Estate Masterplan for 2017–2027 identified the area around Howlands Farm, the Leazes Road site (Hild Bede College), and the current Business School site as possible locations for new accommodation development (i.e. new colleges). In preparation for redevelopment, a number of departments and facilities were relocated from Leazes Road in 2022, including the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, the Institute of Medical Humanities, and the School of Education. Some accommodation at Hild Bede College was also relocated, but plans to close all of the accommodation at the main Hild Bede site were dropped due to high demand for university accommodation.

Accommodation at the main Hild Bede site will continue to be used through 2023–24, with full refurbishment planned to begin in summer 2024. The college will then relocate temporarily to Rushford Court (previously used by John Snow college while the development of their Mount Oswald site was in progress). The university are currently working with Unite Students (the owners of Rushford Court) to develop the facilities normally provided at a college. In the longer term, Rushford Court is planned to become Durham's 18th college.

Ushaw College

Ushaw College, 5 miles west of Durham, is a former Catholic seminary that is a licensed hall of residence of the university. It hosts parts of the Business School and of the Centre for Catholic Studies, with the university having committed to leasing the East Wing until 2027 and to establishing a residential research library at Ushaw. It formerly housed some students from Josephine Butler College, but since summer 2015 the only students at Ushaw are business marketing students. In 2017 the university's Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, part of the School of Education, moved to Ushaw College and has remained there since its sale to Cambridge University in 2019.

Queen's Campus

Wolfson Research Institute at the Queen's Campus

Queen's Campus in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees (Thornaby, North Yorkshire) some 30 miles from Durham City. Until 2017–18, the campus was home to around 2,000 full-time students in two colleges (John Snow and Stephenson Colleges) and the Wolfson Research Institute. A bus connects Queen's Campus to Durham City, with a one-way journey usually taking 45 minutes.

The colleges and academic departments were relocated to Durham City (or transferred to Newcastle University in the case of the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health) between 2017 and 2018, and the Queen's Campus became an International Study Centre (ISC), run by Study Group. This prepares non-EU foreign students to enter degree courses at the university, with the first students having started in September 2017. The ISC has taken over the former college accommodation on the campus, with the former Stephenson College buildings becoming Endeavour Court and the former John Snow College buildings becoming Infinity House. The ISC also continues to use the privately owned Rialto Court accommodation, which was previously used by the Queen's Campus colleges. The university had said, as part of its 2017–2027 masterplan, that it is continuing to explore other options for the use of the Queen's Campus and will be developing a separate masterplan for the campus.

The Wolfson Research Institute was established at the Queen's Campus in 2001 to conduct and facilitate interdisciplinary research in health and wellbeing.


The original university library, now known as the Palace Green Library (centre), and the School of Music (left)

The Durham University Library system holds over 1.5 million printed items. The library was founded in January 1833 at Palace Green with a 160-volume donation by the Bishop of Durham, William Van Mildert. The library operates four branches: Bill Bryson Library (the main library), Queen's Campus Library, Durham University Business School Library and the Palace Green Library, which holds the special and heritage collections.

In 2005, designated status was granted by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to two of the special collections: Bishop Cosin's Library on Palace Green (an endowed public library dating from 1669 of which the university is the trustee), which contains medieval manuscripts and over 5,000 printed books, many early, and the Sudan Archive, described by the university as "the pre-eminent archive on the Sudan outside Khartoum". Since the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council was abolished in 2012, the designation scheme has been managed by Arts Council England; the two special collections remain Designated as of July 2016, along with the Durham University Oriental Museum's Egyptian and Chinese collections.

St Cuthbert Gospel, an 8th-century gospel book

In 2012 the university, together with the British Library and Durham Cathedral, purchased Europe's oldest intact book, the St Cuthbert Gospel, for the nation for £9 million. It is displayed equally in London and Durham, being shown at the university's Palace Green Library for the first time as part of the Lindisfarne Gospels Durham exhibition in 2013.

In addition to the central library system, each College maintains its own library and reading rooms such as the Bettenson, Brewis, Williams and Fenton Libraries of St Chad's College, which contain over 38,000 volumes. Many departments also maintain a library in addition to the subject collections in the central and college libraries. Readers are also entitled to use the theology library housed by Durham Cathedral in its cloister.

In February 2017, the university announced a £2 million investment to establish a residential research library at Ushaw College. This would be the first residential research library at a UK university, and would offer researchers access to the collections of Ushaw College and Durham Cathedral as well as the university's special collections at the Palace Green Library. It is planned that visiting researchers would also participate in the public engagement programme at Ushaw.


The Old Fulling Mill, original home of the Durham University Museum in 1833, on the bank of the River Wear below Durham Cathedral

The university's Museums, Galleries and Exhibitions manages three museums open to the public, all accredited by Arts Council England through the UK Museum Accreditation Scheme, as well as two non-public collections. Total holdings are over 100,000 pieces.

Built in the 1960s, the Durham University Oriental Museum grew predominantly from the acquisitions of the university's former School of Oriental Studies. Initially housed across the university and used as a teaching collection, the size of the collection led to the building of the current museum to house the material. The collection to date contains over 30,000 objects from Asian art to antiquities, covering the Orient and Levant to the Far East and the Indian Sub-continent, with over a third of the collection relating to China. The national importance of the Chinese and Egyptian collections can be seen in the Designated Status from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council achieved in 2008.

The Durham University Museum of Archaeology moved to Palace Green in 2014, having previously been housed in the Old Fulling Mill on the banks of the Wear. The museum was opened in 1833, being the second university museum in England to allow admittance to the general public. The museum focuses on the heritage of North East England and includes national and international collections spanning the Prehistoric, Ancient Greek, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval and Post Medieval periods.

Durham Castle Museum has around 5,000 pieces from the history of the castle, including suits of armour, tapestries, silverware and art.

In addition to the three public museums, the university also holds a biosciences collection and an art collection.

Chapels, prayer rooms and other faith resources

There are Anglican chapels at many of the colleges, including the 11th century Norman Chapel in University College and the art deco chapel in Hild Bede College. There are also multi-faith rooms at St Aidan's College, Trevelyan College, and in the hub building shared by John Snow and South colleges. Muslim prayer rooms are located in Old Elvet and at Grey College. There is a kosher kitchen in St Aidan's College which supports Jewish Sabbath meals and other festivals.

Organisation and administration

Academic year

The academic year at Durham is divided into three terms: Michaelmas term, which lasts 10 weeks from October to December; Epiphany term, which lasts ten weeks from January to March; and Easter term, which lasts nine weeks from April to June. All terms start on a Monday. The weeks of term are called "Teaching Weeks", numbered from 1 (start of Michaelmas) to 29 (end of Easter), although this period is used for teaching and exams. Additionally, there is an "Induction Week" (informally known as "Freshers' Week" or Week 0) for first year students prior to the start of Michaelmas term, starting on the first Monday in October.

Students at the university are also expected to "Keep Term", whereby students must fulfil their academic requirements at the university. As such Heads of Departments must be satisfied that each student has attended all necessary tutorials, seminars and practical work throughout the term and vacation period.


Durham University is located in Durham, England
John Snow
John Snow
Josephine Butler
Josephine Butler
St Aidan's
St Aidan's
St Chad's
St Chad's
St Cuthbert's Society
St Cuthbert's Society
St Hild & St Bede
St Hild & St Bede
St John's
St John's
St Mary's
St Mary's
University (Castle)
University (Castle)
Colleges of Durham University

Durham operates a collegiate structure similar to that of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, in that all the colleges at Durham (that existed in 2013) are "listed bodies" in part two of the Education (Listed Bodies) (England) Order 2013 made under the Education Reform Act 1988, as bodies that appear to the Secretary of State "to be a constituent college, school, hall or other institution of a university which is such a recognised body" (the "recognised body" being, in this case, Durham University). Though most of the Durham colleges are governed and owned directly by the university itself (the exceptions being St John's and St Chad's), the legal status of the Durham colleges is similar to Oxbridge colleges, setting them apart from those at the universities of Kent, Lancaster, and York. However, unlike at Oxford and Cambridge, there is no formal teaching at Durham colleges (with the exception of Cranmer Hall theological college within St John's), although colleges are active in research. The colleges dominate the residential, social, sporting, and pastoral functions within the university, and there is heavy student involvement in their operation.

Formal dinners (known as "formals") are held at every college; gowns are worn to these events at just over half of the colleges. Gowns are not worn for formals at Collingwood, St Aidan's, St Cuthbert's, Hild Bede, Van Mildert, Stephenson or Ustinov. There is a great deal of intercollegiate rivalry, particularly in rowing and other sporting activities. There is also rivalry between the generally older "Bailey" colleges and the newer "Hill" colleges.

The colleges are:


Archdeacon Charles Thorp, founder and first Warden of Durham

The university is governed by the statutes put in place by the Universities of Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne Act, 1963, and subsequently amended by the Privy Council. The statutes provide that: "The University shall be governed by a Visitor, Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Convocation, Council, Senate, and Boards of Studies." (Statute 4).

The visitor of the university is the Bishop of Durham. The visitor is the final arbiter of any dispute within the university, except in those areas where legislation has removed this to the law courts or other ombudsmen, or in matters internal to the two non-maintained colleges (St Chad's College and St John's College), each of which has its own visitor. Student complaints and appeals were heard by the visitor until the Higher Education Act 2004 came into force. All student complaints are now heard by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

The chancellor of the university is Fiona Hill, who was appointed in November 2022 in succession to Sir Thomas Allen and took office in June 2023. The chancellor is appointed by convocation for "a fixed period of not normally less than five years as determined by the Council", which can be renewed. The role of the chancellor is mainly ceremonial; The Vice-Chancellor and Warden is the chief executive officer of the university and is appointed by council after consultation with senate. As warden, the vice-chancellor is responsible for the 15 maintained colleges of the university. Since January 2022 this has been Karen O'Brien, the university's first female Vice-Chancellor and Warden, succeeding Stuart Corbridge who retired in July 2021.

The university's graduation ceremonies take place in Durham Cathedral with receptions on Palace Green

Convocation is the assembly of the university. Membership of convocation includes the chancellor, vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellors, all graduates, the teaching staff (lecturers, senior lecturers, readers, and professors), and the heads of colleges and licensed halls of residence. It must meet once each year in order to hear the Vice-Chancellor's Address and to debate any business relating to the university. Further meetings can be called if representation is made by a minimum of 50 members. Its powers are limited to appointing the chancellor (on the nomination of council and senate) and the making of representations to the university on any business debated (statute 30).

Council is the executive body of the university. In addition to representatives from the university it includes up to 12 lay members (not being teachers or salaried staff in the university or any of its colleges), the Dean of Durham and the President of Durham Students' Union (Statute 10). Its powers include establishing and maintaining colleges, and recognising non-maintained colleges and licensed halls of residence (statutes 12 & 13).

Bill Bryson (Chancellor 2005–2012) in the academic dress of Chancellor of Durham University

Senate is the supreme governing body of the university in academic matters. It has the right to be consulted by Council on the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor and Warden, the deputy vice-chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellors, and recommends the establishment of Faculties and Boards of Studies (academic departments). It is Senate that grants degrees, and has the authority to revoke them. It also regulates the use of academic dress of the university (statutes 19 & 20).

The academic electoral assembly consists of all members of academic staff, except those who are ex-officio members of senate, and the senior tutors of St John's College and At Chad's College. In addition to electing members of senate, it has its own chair and standing committee and may discuss "Any matter of interest to the University" and make recommendations to senate, council or both (statute 24).

The day-to-day running of the university is in the hands of the University Executive Committee (UEC), which is also responsible for the development of the policies and strategies. This is a joint subcommittee of Senate and Council and consists of the Vice-Chancellor and Warden, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost (Chief Academic Officer), the five pro-vice-chancellors (Colleges and Student Experience; Education; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; Global; and Research, the executive deans of the four faculties, the chief financial officer, the chief information officer, the university secretary, and the directors of four support divisions (Estates and Facilities; Human Resources and Organisational Development; Strategy Delivery; and Advancement, Marketing and Communications). All heads of departments and of colleges report directly to one of the members of the UEC.

Departments and faculties

The teaching departments of the university are divided into four faculties: Science, Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences and Health, and the Business School. Each faculty is headed by an executive dean and one or more deputies. These, along with the heads of the departments in the faculty and the vice-chancellor, make up the Faculty Board for that faculty. Each department also has a Board of Studies consisting of the executive dean of their faculty, the teaching staff of the department, and student representatives (statute 29). Associated with the first three faculties are three combined honours degrees: Natural Sciences (BSc and MSci), Liberal Arts (BA), and Combined Honours in Social Sciences (BA). Various joint honours degrees are also offered spanning multiple departments, such as the Philosophy, Politics and Economics BA offered by the departments of philosophy, government and international affairs, and economics.

Faculty of Social Sciences & Health

  • Department of Anthropology
  • Department of Archaeology
  • Combined Honours in Social Sciences programme
  • Durham Centre for Academic Development
  • School of Education
  • Department of Geography
  • School of Government and International Affairs
  • Durham Law School
  • Department of Sociology
  • Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Faculty of Arts and Humanities

  • Department of Classics & Ancient History
  • Department of English Studies
  • Department of History
  • Liberal Arts programme
  • School of Modern Languages and Cultures
    (Includes Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hispanic Studies, Italian, Japanese, Russian and the Centre for Foreign Language Study)
  • Department of Music
  • Department of Philosophy
  • Department of Theology and Religion

Faculty of Science

  • Natural Sciences programme
  • Department of Biosciences
  • Department of Chemistry
  • Department of Computer Science
  • Department of Earth Sciences
  • Department of Engineering
  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
  • Department of Physics
  • Department of Psychology

Durham University Business School

  • Department of Accounting
  • Department of Economics
  • Department of Finance
  • Department of Management and Marketing

Academic profile


The Dawson Building houses the departments of Archaeology and Anthropology

The university is part of the regional N8 Research Partnership of universities in the north of England, as well as multiple research consortia including the Virgo Consortium and the University of the Arctic. It was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize, the UK's highest academic honour, in 2018 for research on parent-infant sleep. Durham hosts the 'memory intensive' service of the UK's DiRAC supercomputer facility, as well as the N8 Research Partnership's Bede supercomputer.

Research institutes at the university include the Biophysical Sciences Institute, the Durham Energy Institute, the Institute for Computational Cosmology, the Institute for Data Science, the Institute for Medical Humanities, the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology, the Institute of Advanced Study, the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resiliance, the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing. There are also a large number of research centres located within departments, including the IBRU: Centre for Borders Research (Department of Geography) and the Durham Research in Economic Analysis and Mechanisms (Department of Economics), which has a research partnership with the Competition and Markets Authority's Microeconomics Unit at the UK Government's Darlington Economic Campus.

While Durham does not have a medical school, the "Health at Durham" programme takes in 44 institutes, centres, academies and projects from across the university. The programme focuses on non-clinical aspects of health, including physical, mental, social and environmental aspects of health. Durham hosts the Welcome Trust-funded Black Health and the Humanities Network in the university's Institute of Medical Humanities, and is also one of the lead partners in the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research.

In the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF), Durham's research profile was assessed as 45 per cent world class (4*) (33 per cent in 2014), 45 per cent internationally important (3*) (50 per cent in 2014), 10 per cent internationally recognised (2*) (15 per cent in 2014) and 0 per cent nationally recognised (1*) (1 per cent in 2014). This gave it an overall 'GPA' (calculated by Times Higher Education) of 3.34 (3.14 in 2014, 2.72 in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise). However, this improvement was in the context of a rise in the average profile, leading to a fall in Durham's relative ranking by GPA from 20th in 2014 to joint 25th in 2021. Durham's indexed research power (calculated by Times Higher Education, with the top university by research power having an index of 1000) rose from 282 in 2014 (relative to UCL) to 299 in 2021 (relative to Oxford), and it remained ranked 20th by research power. Durham's 'market share' of funding (estimated by Times Higher Education) was expected to fall very slightly from 1.55 per cent in 2014 to 1.5 per cent in 2021. In regional terms, the success of Durham alongside Newcastle University and Northumbria University gave the North East the largest concentration of researchers in a city area outside of London.

Reputation and rankings

National rankings
Complete (2024)8
Guardian (2024)7
Times / Sunday Times (2024)7
Global rankings
ARWU (2023)301–400
QS (2024)78
THE (2024)174
Durham University's national league table performance over the past ten years
Durham Law School

Due to its age, Oxbridge-style structure, and highly selective admissions, Durham has long been widely regarded as one of the UK's most prestigious or elite universities, albeit not as prestigious as Oxford or Cambridge. It is also one of the few universities to have won University Challenge more than once (1977, 2000 and 2023). Durham was also Sunday Times University of the Year for 2005.

Durham University's Strategic Plan 2017–2027 defines targets of being in the top 5 nationally on the Times/Sunday Times league table, of having 50 per cent of eligible subjects in the top 50 globally on the QS world rankings, and of being in the top three UK institutions by citations per academic staff member.


Durham consistently places in the top ten in rankings of universities in the United Kingdom and is one of only four universities (along with Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews) to have not left the top 10 in any of the three main domestic league tables since 2013. The 2024 Complete University Guide ranks Durham 8th overall, The Guardian University Guide 2023 ranks Durham 6th overall and the 2023 The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide ranks Durham 6th overall.

The High Fliers Research UK graduate market report for 2023 placed Durham 9th in its table of universities targeted by the largest number of top employees.


In the 2020 Complete University Guide subject rankings, Durham is top in the UK for English and Music. The university ranks second for French, Geography & Environmental Science, Iberian Languages, Middle Eastern & African Studies, and Theology & Religious Studies. Third for Archaeology, Chemistry, Classics & Ancient History, German, History, Italian, and Russian & East European Languages. With 30/33 subjects ranked in the top 10, Durham is one of only four universities (along with Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College London) to have over 90 per cent of their subjects in the top 10 in this ranking.

In The Guardian 2018 subject rankings Durham ranks first in Archaeology, second in Education, and third in Chemistry, Earth Sciences, English, Geography & Environmental Studies, and Religious Studies & Theology.

In the 2018 The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide subject rankings, Durham is top in music and joint top in English. It also ranks second in archaeology and forensic science, East and South Asian studies, geography and environmental science, history, Iberian languages, Italian, and theology and religious studies; joint second in Russian and East European languages: and third in chemistry and education.


The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2024 place Durham 174th in the world, up 24 places from the 2023 ranking. In subject and subject area rankings for 2024, Durham was placed 39th in arts and humanities, in the 201–250 range for engineering and technology and for life sciences, in the 126–150 range for physical sciences, 81st for social sciences, in the 101–125 range for business and economics, in the 301–400 range for computer science, joint 60th for law, joint 92nd for education, and in the 126–150 range for psychology.

Durham was ranked joint 77th in the Times Higher Education impact ranking for 2023, measuring the impact of universities' research, stewardship, outreach and teaching towards the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, up at least 24 places from 2023 (ranked 101-200). Towards individual goals, it was ranked joint 64th for partnerships for the goals, joint 66th for peace, justice and strong institutions, 15th for life on land, joint 64th for life below water, in the 101–200 range for climate action, 26th for responsible consumption and production, 34th for sustainable cities and communities, in the 101–200 range for reducing inequalities and for innovation, industry and infrastructure, in the 201–300 range for decent work and economic growth, in the 101–200 range for affordable and clean energy, 72nd for clean water and sanitation, in the 201–300 range for gender equality, in the 401–600 range for quality education and for good health and well-being, in the 201-300 range for zero hunger, and joint 35th for no poverty.

The QS World University Rankings 2024 places Durham 78th in the world, up 14 places from 2023. The QS European University Rankings 2024 places Durham 27th in Europe. In the "faculty" subject areas for 2023, Durham ranks 32nd in the world for arts and humanities, 319th for engineering and technology, in the 401–450 range for life sciences and medicine, 74th in the world for natural sciences, and 102nd in the world for social sciences and management.

In the subject rankings for 2023, Durham was ranked 6th in the world for theology, divinity and religious studies, 8th for classics and ancient history, 10th for archaeology and 14th for geography. Anthropology (23rd), philosophy (32nd), English language and literature (38th), history (38th), Earth and marine sciences (46th), geology (46th), law and legal studies (46th), and geophysics (47th) also featured in the top 50 in the world, while Durham also ranked in the top 100 for accounting and finance, education and training, modern languages, physics and astronomy, politics, psychology, and sports-related subjects. A further 13 subjects were ranked outside of the top 100. One of Durham's 2017–2027 strategic goals is to have half of its subjects in the top 50 globally on the QS ranking; in 2023 it had 12 in the top 50 out of 30 subjects ranked (40 per cent) with a further 7 (23 per cent) in the top 100.

The Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities for 2023 placed Durham in the 301–400 range. In individual subject areas, Durham was ranked 4th for geography, in the 51–75 range for Earth sciences and for business administration, and in the 76–100 range for political sciences. A further 19 subjects were ranked outside of the 100.


UCAS Admission Statistics
2022 2021 2020 2019 2018
Main scheme applications
Applications 34,205 32,570 32,685 30,710 29,890
Accepted applicants 4,610 6,130 5,140 4,485 4,335
Applications/accepted ratio 7.42 5.31 6.36 6.85 6.90
UK domiciled applicants, June deadline
Applications 22,960 21,995 22,355 20,400 20,010
Offer rate (%) 48.0 71.0 72.2 76.6 71.7
Offers 11,020 15,625 16,140 15,620 14,355
Placed applicants 3,375 4,895 4,135 3,570 3,455
Placed applicants/offers (%) (Yield) 30.6 31.3 25.6 22.9 24.1
Summary statistics
Total accepted applicants 4,680 6,160 5,710 4,580 4,390
Average Entry Tariff n/a n/a 187 184 192
Cosin's Hall, home to the Institute of Advanced Study

The average UCAS point score for new entrants in 2020–21 was 187 points, placing Durham University tenth in the country in terms of entrants' points. Durham's student body consists of 14,730 undergraduates and 4,790 postgraduate students (2019/20). In 2014/15, Durham had the fourth highest number of students from middle-class backgrounds at 85.8 per cent. For the same year, 34.3 per cent of the undergraduate full-time student population came from independent schools and 8.75% from grammar schools, 19.35 per cent of full-time students are of ethnic minorities. In 2014–15, 44.8 per cent of full-time undergraduate students lived in University (including St John's and St Chad's colleges) accommodation. The university gave offers of admission to 69 per cent of 18-year-old applicants in 2015, the 9th lowest amongst the Russell Group. In the 2016–17 academic year, the university had a domicile breakdown of 73:6:22 of UK:EU:non-EU students respectively with a female to male ratio of 55:45.

Durham charges undergraduate fees of £9,250 for home/EU students. Following the Government's announcement in 2016 that fees in England would be allowed to rise by 2.8 per cent (from the then maximum level of £9,000), Durham became one of the first universities in the country to announce it intended to take advantage of this to raise fees to the new maximum of £9,250 for students entering from 2017.

For the undergraduate admissions cycle 2013–14, Durham received 26,030 applications (for around 4,200 places), of which 38.4 per cent were from independent schools and 13.8 per cent (of UK applications) from ethnic minorities, overall 64.2 per cent of applicants were successful in receiving an offer of admissions. Durham requires students applying for degrees in law to sit the LNAT admission test.

Durham is listed as part of the Sutton Trust 30 "most highly selective" British universities.

Widening access

UCAS statistics on low/high participation neighbourhoods
2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
POLAR4 Q1 (lowest participation 20% neighbourhoods)
Offer rate difference +37.4 +23.4 +18.9 +9.4 +9.3 +3.7
Significant? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
% of all offers 12.4 9.0 8.1 6.4 5.9 5.3
% of placed applicants 10.7 9.0 7.5 7.2 5.8 6.0
POLAR4 Q5 (highest participation 20% neighbourhoods)
Offer rate difference -12.7 -9.9 -7.4 -2.1 -2.0 -0.7
Significant? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
% of all offers 38.4 43.4 46.1 49.5 51.6 52.5
% of placed applicants 39.2 43.1 45.7 48.1 52.3 51.8
Offer rate difference is the difference between the actual offer rate and the expected offer rate if predicted grades and subject choice were the only factors. Significant? indicates whether the offer rate difference is statistically significant. All statistics refer to 18 year old, UK domiciled applicants.

Durham was criticised in 2017 for not accepting as many students from low participation neighbourhoods, and from state schools, as might be expected from its admission standards and course offerings. For admissions in 2015/16 (the data published in 2017 that sparked the criticism), Durham had the third lowest percentage of state school students (among higher education institutions with over 1,000 full-time first-degree entrants) at 60.5 per cent, compared to a Higher Education Statistics Agency benchmark of 75 per cent. According to pro-vice-chancellor, Alan Hudson, this was a temporary drop from the 63 per cent level the university has reached in recent years, and to which it was expected to return in 2016/17. The university also fell short of its benchmark for admissions from low participation neighbourhoods, accepting 5.1 per cent, compared to a benchmark of 6 per cent. The data for 2016/17 showed that admissions from state schools had recovered to 62.9 per cent, still short of the location-adjusted benchmark of 74.9 per cent, and that admissions from low participation neighbourhoods were 5.2 per cent compared to the location-adjusted benchmark of 6.6 per cent.

Since 1992 the university has run a widening access programme, originally called the Centre for Lifelong Learning and now known as the Durham Centre for Academic Development. The centre provides access to Durham degrees for mature students who show academic promise but do not hold the traditional entry requirements. The centre runs a range of foundation year courses associated with specific degree courses. For the 2013–14 admissions cycle, 153 students took up offers of places in the programme.

Durham has partnered with the Sutton Trust since 2012 to run the Durham University Sutton Trust Summer School for gifted and talented school children from underrepresented backgrounds, leading to qualification with 16 to 32 UCAS Tariff points and a guaranteed conditional offer from Durham if they choose to apply. The university also runs the Durham International Summer School and partners with the Sutton Trust to run the Durham Teacher Summer School.

In 2014, Durham became the first UK university to participate in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The scheme, where students study alongside inmates, ran in Durham Prison and the high-security Frankland Prison in 2015 and was expanded to include Low Newton Prison in 2016.

Durham gives a bursary, known as the Durham Grant, of £2,000 per year to students from households with an annual income of less than £25,000. The university planned to reduce this to £1,800 per year for students entering from 2016 onwards, after the Office for Fair Access encouraged moving away from bursaries to other schemes to widen participation. However, this decision was reversed after the government decided to abolish maintenance grants. The university also runs the "Supported Progression" programme for sixth-form students, aimed at helping talented young people from the North East, Cumbria and Yorkshire to fulfill their potential via a two-year structured programme of events.

For UK domiciled young full-time undergraduate entrants in 2020/21, 61.6% came from state schools, significantly below the location-adjusted benchmark of 78.5%, and 7.6% came from low participation neighbourhoods, not significantly different from the location-adjusted benchmark of 8.0%. For UK-domiciled undergraduate entrants in 2022/23, UCAS data shows no significant difference in offer rate with gender, a statistically significantly higher offer rate for Black and Asian applicants coupled with a significantly lower offer rate for white applicants, and a statistically significantly higher offer rate for applicants from the 80% of neighbourhoods with the lowest rates of participation in higher education coupled with a significantly lower offer rate for applicants from the 20% of neighbourhoods with the highest rates of participation in higher education.

Student life

Residential life

The Great Hall at University College – communal dining is traditional at most Durham colleges

Durham students belong to a college for the duration of their time at the university. Most students live in their college for the first year of their undergraduate life, then choose to 'live-out' in their second year, and subsequently have the option of moving back into college for their final year, usually via a ballot system. The Colleges provide a key role in the pastoral care and social centre of students with each running a college tutorial system, along with JCRs providing events and societies for undergraduate members, MCRs being a centre for postgraduate students and the SCRs for the college officers, fellows and tutors. These common rooms are run by an executive committee, usually headed by a President. Some colleges use other titles for the head of their JCR: Hatfield retains "Senior Man", having rejected a motion to move to "JCR President" in May 2014 and a motion to allow the incumbent to choose between "Senior Man", "Senior Woman" or "Senior Student" in January 2016. University College voted to allow "Senior Man", "Senior Woman" or "Senior Student" in June 2015, the incumbent switching to using "Senior Student", and St Chad's uses "Senior Man" or "Senior Woman".

Each college has a unique identity and a variety of facilities for students ranging from computer rooms and libraries to tennis courts and gyms. In 2015, Durham University was voted number 1 in the UK for best university WiFi, on the review platform StudentCrowd. Most colleges have their own sports teams and compete in the collegiate leagues (such as Durham College Rowing) and have their own theatre company and orchestra which operate parallel to the university level sports teams and organisations.

Student organisations

The Durham Union Society is the university's largest student society

Approximately 200 student clubs and organisations run on Durham's campuses, covering academic, arts, culture and faith, hobbies and games, outdoors, politics, law and music interests. Durham Students' Union (DSU) charters and provides most of the funding for these organisations. The Durham Union Society, founded in 1842 as Durham's Student Debating & Union Society, claims to be the largest independent student society in Durham, and hosts weekly debates and addresses from invited guests. It is supported by both local and corporate sponsors, including Penguin Books, Teach First and the Magic Circle law firm Slaughter and May. The Durham University History Society is the oldest academic society at the university, founded in 1926.

There has been past speculation on the prevalence of socially elitist so-called secret societies on campus, with the 'Hatfield Cavaliers', 'Castle Fives', 'Red Poet Society', 'Elephant Polo Club', and the 'Caelians' named as examples of supposedly active groups in student articles. Most have an all-male membership, though the 'Aolian Society' (named after the Greek God of Wind), said to be based almost exclusively around students from University College, is an apparent exception. Such societies, like 'A.A.' or, in full, Arcanum Arcanorum, are said to have memberships dominated by the Bailey colleges. Alumni dinners for former members of these societies have been held at London clubs.


Student body composition 2020/21
Race and ethnicity Total
White 67.83% 67.83
Asian 22.90% 22.9
Mixed 4.70% 4.7
Other 2.10% 2.1
Black 1.53% 1.53
Arab 0.95% 0.95
Educational background Total
State school 60.56% 60.56
Private school 37.78% 37.78
Gender Total
Female 53% 53
Male 47% 47

BAME (Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic) students make up 32.6% of full-time Durham students in 2019/20, although students who classify themselves as 'black' number only 382 out of 18,430 full-time students (2.07%). According to a 2018 article for the youth news site The Tab, the low representation of black students means that support structures for many young, vulnerable, black students are non-existent.

Incidents of racism, sexism and elitism have been reported as occurring at Durham University. The university has stated that they condemn all racism and hate crime. The university established an independent commission on Respect, Values and Behaviours in October 2018. The report of this commission was published in July 2020, highlighting that there were multiple problems with bullying, discrimination and a lack of diversity, and that many students came to the university with a "sense of entitlement". The report also found that the lack of diversity was "at the root of a number of discriminatory and exclusionary behaviours", including racism, sexism, and disrespect of working class students. The commission made 20 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the university's management.

Civic engagement

Dunelm House, home of the Durham Students' Union

Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach (DUSVO; formally Student Community Action – SCA), was formed in 1989 and oversaw over 80 volunteer projects in Durham and the surrounding area, (including over 50 student-run projects), involving more than 2,000 students yearly, as of 2020. DUSVO runs projects through online portals for Staff and Students respectively. Staff at the university are permitted to spend up to 5 days (35 hours) volunteering during working time. It was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service – the UK's highest honour for volunteer groups – in 2020. The annual Durham University Volunteering Awards recognise individuals, teams, colleges and projects across several categories. Individual colleges often organise their own outreach and charitable activities separately to DUSVO.

Durham University Charity Kommittee (or DUCK) is the university's equivalent of student's rag week and the fundraising arm of the Durham Students Union. Originally set up as a week event, DUCK has become a permanent feature in raising money for local or national charities with events taking place throughout the year. Activities and organisation happens at a university level, as well as in smaller groups within specific colleges. DUCK has previously organised expeditions to the Himalayas, Jordan and Mount Kilimanjaro and been involved in the university-run 'Project Sri Lanka' and 'Project Thailand'.

Team Durham Community Outreach is a sports community programme aimed at giving support and opportunities through the use of sport. The programme runs projects such as Summer Camps for children from the Youth Engagement Service and fostered backgrounds along with providing coaching at local schools as well as participating in sports in action.

Town and gown relations

The relationship between the university and the wider city has not always been free of tension. University plans for expansion have also faced local opposition.

Student media

Palatinate, Durham's independent student run fortnightly newspaper, has been continually published since 1948. Notable former editors include George Alagiah, Hunter Davies, Piers Merchant, Sir Timothy Laurence, Jeremy Vine and Harold Evans.

Purple Radio is Durham's student radio station. It broadcasts live from the DSU 24 hours a day during term time. The station has existed since the 1980s and is a recognised DSU society. Two daily news bulletins are broadcast every weekday, as well as a Breakfast Show and an Evening Show.

The Bubble, founded in 2010, is an online magazine based at the university covering various subjects, including student and university news.


University College Boat Club and Newcastle University racing at Durham Regatta

Sport at Durham is a key aspect of student life with some 92 per cent of students regularly taking part. It has twice been named Times and Sunday Times Sports University of the Year, in 2015 and 2023. As of 2018, the university caters for more than 50 different sports, organised under the umbrella name of Team Durham, with many being predominantly based at the Maiden Castle sports centre. This facility has 26 courts and pitches for sports ranging from rugby to lacrosse to netball, additional facilities include eleven boat houses, two astroturfs, a fitness studio, and a weights room. The university also owns The Racecourse which has a further eight courts and pitches for cricket, rugby (union and league), squash and football.

The university is recognised as a Centre of Cricketing Excellence, as a British Rowing Performance Centre, and as a Lawn Tennis Association University Partner. It is also a Football Association Football Accredited University, with the highest 3* rating.

Durham has been in the top three across all sports in the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) table since 2011/12. In 2014/15 it became only the second University (after Loughborough) to pass 4000 BUCS points and the top university in the country for team sports. Both of these were repeated in 2015/16, which also saw Durham beat its own records for total BUCS scores in league and cup competitions.

In rowing, it has a good record at the BUCS Regatta, having won the title for ten consecutive years (2004–2013) before coming second in 2014, then regaining the title in 2015 and again in 2023. Durham University Boat Club also competes in Durham Regatta and the Boat Race of the North against Newcastle University, which ran 1997 – 2010 and was revived in 2015.

In Women's and Men's lawn tennis, Team Durham's 1st teams have done well at the BUCS Championship, with the Women's team winning the Championship in 2011 & 2017 and the Men's team winning 4 straight Championships from 2014 to 2018.

The Racecourse is one of the university's main sites for sporting facilities

Durham University is one of four universities to compete in the unofficial "Doxbridge" Tournament in Dublin, a sporting competition between Durham University, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the University of York. Durham colleges also compete officially with colleges from the University of York in the annual College Varsity tournament held since 2014. Durham won this tournament in 2014 (in York) and 2015 (in Durham) before York recorded their first victory in 2016 (in York). Durham also competes again long-standing BUCS champions Loughborough University in the 'BUCS Varsity', a coordinated set of BUCS matches across multiple sports, and in a competition between Durham colleges and Loughborough halls of residence, both of which were organised for the first time in 2015/16. Durham won the BUCS Varsity both home and away in 2015/16 but lost the colleges' competition, held in Durham.

Palatinates (named after the colour associated with the university) are given to athletes who demonstrate a high standard (such as international representation) in their sport. It is similar to a blue awarded at other British universities, though the criteria are stricter, and earning a full palatinate has been described by the university as a 'notoriously difficult' achievement. In 2020 just 18 student athletes received the full award, with a further 56 earning a half-palatinate.

Esports are included through Durham University Esports and Gaming (DUEG) as part of Team Durham. DUEG participates in 12 games, across National Student Esports (NSE) and National University Esports League (NUEL) tournaments.

Music and drama

Durham University Botanic Garden

The central body for theatre at the university is known as Durham Student Theatre (DST), with around 700 active student members throughout 27 separate, student-run theatre societies as of 2018. The Assembly Rooms is the university-owned theatre, located on The Bailey, which hosts a number of student productions each term. Alongside this, student drama productions are held at Durham City's Gala Theatre (notably Durham University Light Opera Group (DULOG) and Durham Opera Ensemble (DOE), which both perform one show in the Gala every year in Epiphany term), venues around Durham University and within the colleges, Durham Castle, Durham Cathedral, as well as in national and international venues and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Since 1975, the university has played host to the Durham Drama Festival which celebrates new theatrical and dramatic material written by Durham students.

The Durham Revue is the university's sketch comedy group. Tracing its roots back to the early 1950s, and known under its current name since 1988, the group consists of six writer-performers (auditioned, interviewed and chosen each Michaelmas Term) and produces a series of shows each year. The group performs annually with Cambridge University's Footlights and Oxford University's The Oxford Revue, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Music is particularly marked by the Durham University Chamber Choir and the Durham University Orchestral Society . The Durham Cathedral Choir offers choral scholarships to male students, and several of the colleges (University, Hatfield, Hild Bede, St John's, St Chad's, St Cuthbert's, Grey and St Mary's) also offer organ and/or choral scholarships, as does the Catholic Chaplaincy.

Durham is also home to the oldest Gamelan slendro set in the UK with an active community group and an artist in residence. The instruments are currently housed in the Grade II listed Durham University Observatory. Recently a set tuned to peloghas been added meaning that Durham now has a complete Gamelan orchestra. In recent years, the Durham Gamelan Society has performed at several major public events such as the Gong Festivals 2011 & 2012 and at the Gamelan Lokananta all night wayang kulit in celebration of York University's Gamelan Sekar Petak 30th anniversary in 2012, as well as many smaller performances for the International Students' Festival and college events.

Leadership and Personal Development

Students can participate in several personal development courses offered by the university. The Durham Leadership framework aims to develop student leaders and includes online resources, an Emerging Leadership Program and a year-long Leadership Academy. The Laidlaw Research and Leadership Program, which is provided at multiple universities as part of the Laidlaw Foundation, provides funding for 25 Durham Undergraduates. The program comprises a 6-week summer research project, a leadership training retreat, a 6-week summer 'leadership-in-action experience' and ethical masterclass. The Durham Inspired Award aims to develop six 'Graduate Attributes' (emotional intelligence, creativity, communication, critical thinking, global perspective and leadership/teamwork) by encouraging self-reflection on external activities. The current program can be taken by students at Hatfield, Trevelyan or Stephenson through their respective college, or by any other students through the DUSVO Volunteering Platform.



Durham alumni are active through organisations and events such as the annual reunions, dinners and balls. By 2007 there were 67 Durham associations ranging from international to college and sports affiliated groups catering for the more than 109,000 living alumni.

The umbrella organisation for Durham University alumni is Dunelm, which offers a range of events and dedicated alumni services. Dunelm can trace its roots to the Durham University Society, formed in 1921, and preceded by the Society of Dunelmians in 1905 and the Durham University Association in 1866. Dunelm USA, formerly the North American Foundation for the University of Durham or NAFUD, is a philanthropic body in the United States that hosts alumni events and fundraises for Durham-related projects.

A masonic lodge, University of Durham Lodge no. 3030, was founded in 1903 for university alumni and currently meets at Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden. Alumni also benefited from affiliate membership of the Princeton Club of New York prior to its closure. Durham graduates do not have a dedicated private club themselves – an attempt to raise funds for a central London club (modelled on the Oxford and Cambridge Club) commenced in March 1922, spearheaded by members of the University of Durham Lodge, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Notable people

General Sir Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff

A number of Durham alumni have made significant contributions in the fields of government, law, science, academia, business, arts, journalism, and athletics, among others.

Durham alumni who have held significant positions in the British government have included Henry Holland, 1st Viscount Knutsford, Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1887 to 1892 (Law, 1847), Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the time of the Good Friday Peace Agreement (Sociology and Anthropology) and former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland (Law). Heads of state or government internationally have included Sir Milton Margai, first prime minister of Sierra Leone (MD, 1926), John Douglas (BA, 1850), 7th Premier of Queensland, Steven Marshall, Premier of South Australia from 2016 to 2022, and Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah (PhD Geography, 1999).

Alumni in religion have included Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (St John's, 1992), Alastair Haggart, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and Libby Lane, the first woman to be consecrated bishop in the Church of England.

Durham graduates also hold noteworthy positions in the law, including Supreme Court Justices Lord Hughes (Law) and Lady Black (Law) and the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane amongst others.

Within the military graduates include General Richard Dannatt, Baron Dannatt (Economic History), former the Chief of the General Staff, Vice-Admiral Sir Tim Laurence (Geography), Chief Executive of Defence Estates and husband to The Princess Royal, and Rear-Admiral Amjad Hussain (Engineering, 1979) highest-ranking officer from an ethnic minority in the British Armed Forces.

Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project

In academia, Durham graduates include John D. Barrow (Mathematics and Physics, 1974), winner of the Templeton Prize, George Rochester (1926), co-discoverer of the kaon sub-atomic particle, Harold Jeffreys (Mathematics, 1919), winner of the Royal Society's Copley Medal, and Kingsley Charles Dunham (Geology 1930) former director of the British Geological Survey.

Several alumni have made significant contributions in business, including Richard Adams (Sociology), fair trade pioneer and founder of Traidcraft, Paul Hawkins (PhD in Artificial Intelligence), inventor of the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking system, Tim Smit (Archaeology and Anthropology), co-founder of the Eden Project and David Walton (Economics and Mathematics, 1984), member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee.

Harold Evans

Prominent journalists and others in the media have included: George Entwistle, former Director-General of the BBC, Harold Evans (Politics and Economics), editor of The Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981 and The Times, George Alagiah (Politics), presenter of the BBC News at Six, Biddy Baxter (1955), former producer of Blue Peter, Alastair Fothergill (Zoology, 1983), series producer of The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and the director of the 2007 film Earth, Lorraine Heggessey (English Language & Literature), the first female Controller of BBC One, and BBC presenters Gabby Logan (Law, 1995) and Jeremy Vine (English).

Noted writers include Edward Bradley author of The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, Minette Walters (French, 1971), author of The Sculptress and The Scold's Bridle, Graham Hancock (Sociology, 1973) author of The Sign and the Seal.

Jonathan Edwards, Van Mildert College, Physics

In the sports realm, former England rugby captains Will Carling (Psychology), Phil de Glanville (Economics), and vice-captain Will Greenwood (Economics, 1994), alongside Olympic gold-medal triple jumper Jonathan Edwards (Physics, 1987), Beijing Olympics Bronze-medallist rower Stephen Rowbotham (Business Economics), London 2012 Gold-medallist rower Sophie Hosking (Chemistry and Physics), former England cricket captains Nasser Hussain (Geochemistry) and Andrew Strauss (Economics) are among the most famous.

See also

54°46′30″N 01°34′30″W / 54.77500°N 1.57500°W / 54.77500; -1.57500

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