Durham University’s largest donor pulls funding over Covid restrictions

Durham University’s largest donor has pulled his financial support for the institution because of its Covid-19 restrictions.

Hedge fund manager Mark Hillery had donated £7m over the past seven years but publicly criticised what he called the “ridiculous and ineffective” coronavirus rules in place at the university.

He said he would not “visit Durham again while there is a single Covid-related rule imposed on the students”. It comes as Boris Johnson suggested all remaining restrictions in England could end later this month.

Hillery told the PA news agency that “the principal 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.”

The university resumed online learning after the rise in Omicron cases in the north-east.

Hillery said: “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. 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.”

He also resigned from the external advisory board of his old college, Collingwood, and ended dialogue with Durham.

Collingwood received £4m in donations from 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 hosted talks on finance and is known for putting generous amounts behind the Collingwood bar.

Hillery told the Palatinate student newspaper: “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.”

A spokesperson for Durham 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.”

PA Media contributed to this report

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