Durham University’s largest donor and former student, Mark Hillery, has withdrawn all his funding due to his personal disagreement with the university’s decision to continue imposing Covid restrictions on the universities campus. He feels these restrictions are unnecessary since the rest of the country are not subject to any.
This is a major decision that may impact the university in the future, as he was a close collaborator with them for years. He notably donated £4 million to Collingwood College in 2016, helping to fund the Mark Hillery Arts Centre on campus, as well as regularly visiting the university and giving talks to the students.
The decision to disassociate himself with the university emphasises the importance of both private donations for universities, as well as the way in which universities should be approaching their handling of the pandemic. A student studying at Durham University told The Mancunion, “Covid restrictions imposed by Durham University were illogical and unnecessary as we were all free to interact outside of university, without restrictions’’. They also found it “strange that we were the only university to switch back to online learning (in semester 2)”.
This case may urge universities to consider their own handling of the pandemic, now that Covid restrictions have been removed by the government. Having spoken to students studying at Manchester whose education has been impacted by Covid, the consensus is that online learning can be a lonely experience where students feel less engaged with their course.
An Architecture student who had all their lectures online in the first semester told The Mancunion that “online learning was less interactive so I was less motivated to engage with the work.” Another student who is studying Psychology felt “it was hard for me to engage with what I was learning, as not being able to go outside and being stuck in my room all day doing was a very isolating experience. I only met the other people on my course a week ago, when semester 2 started, until now I’ve felt very distanced from my lecturers and tutors which wasn’t great.” He also brought up that “this was upsetting since other courses were not doing online learning so I felt it wasn’t necessary”.
Private donors are a key part of funding across all universities, including the University of Manchester where the Towneley family made contributions ensuring there would be scholarships available to those wanting to do a Masters in Medieval and Early Modern Studies.