Durham University’s biggest donor withdraws support over Covid-19 rules

The biggest donor to Durham University has withdrawn his financial support over what he describes as “ridiculous and ineffective” Covid-19 restrictions.

In an interview with student newspaper Palatinate, hedge fund manager Mark Hillery said he would not “visit Durham again while there is a single Covid-related rule imposed on the students”.

Mr Hillery donated £7 million to the university from 2015 to 2021.

He has resigned from the external advisory board of his old college, Collingwood, and has ceased all dialogue with the university.


The principle trigger for me has been the insistence to persist with restrictions and impositions on healthy 20 year-olds that are way beyond those placed on the rest of society since the start of the 2021-22 academic year

Collingwood received £4million in donations from Mr Hillery in 2016, which funded the 200-seater Mark Hillery Arts Centre, a yoga studio, bar conservatory and expanded JCR common room and gym.

He has also hosted talks on finance and is known for putting generous sums behind the Collingwood bar.

He told the PA news agency that “the principle trigger (for withdrawing support) has been the insistence to persist with restrictions and impositions on healthy 20-year-olds that are way beyond those placed on the rest of society since the start of the 2021-22 academic year”.

“These go against Government guidelines. To resort yet again to online teaching at the start of this term was a disgrace,” he added.

“Durham, and many other higher education establishments, are leaving students as the final members of society to still be subjected to these ineffective and ridiculous rules,” he said.

“That seems both surreal and unjust. This is not how we should be prioritising within our society. The younger generations have been subjected to enough of this.”

Mr Hillery told Palatinate: “It’s a very depressing state of affairs. I had always felt a very close connection and obligation to the university and its students. It feels odd to be so disengaged, but it is what it is now”.

“Urgency that should have been displayed to fully normalise (the university) to the same status as the rest of society has not been there,” he said.

“The same pedantic and ineffective policies that place the priorities of the paying students at the bottom of the pile are simply continued and refined. It’s tiring to watch.”

In January, the university reintroduced online learning for two weeks due to high cases of the Omicron variant in the North East.

A spokesperson for the university said: “Mark Hillery is a generous benefactor to the university. We appreciate his support for many initiatives, including the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, a studio theatre and music venue at our Collingwood College.”

“These contributions have improved our students’ experience and will continue to make an impact for many years to come.

“Our approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic has always prioritised the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, students and wider community.

“We have been guided at all times by the local trajectory of the pandemic which varied at different times across the UK. We have carefully taken into account a wide range of information and perspectives, including Government guidelines, prevailing conditions and advice from local Public Health colleagues.”