Durham University's biggest donor withdraws funding over Covid restrictions

Collingwood college in Durham has received £7m in funding over seven years from former student Mark Hillery. Credit: PA Images

Durham University’s biggest donor has withdrawn his financial support over the institution’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Hedge fund manager Mark Hillery, who donated £7m over the past seven years, has publicly criticised what he deemed “ridiculous and ineffective” Covid-19 rules in place at the university.

He told the university's student newspaper Palatinate, which first reported the story, that he would not "visit Durham again while there is a single Covid-related rule imposed on the students".

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

Speaking to the PA Agency, Mr Hillery said: "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".

He also criticised the university’s decision to temporarily reintroduce some online teaching in January following the rise in Omicron cases in the North East.

Mr Hillery added: "To resort yet again to online teaching at the start of this term was a disgrace.

"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.”

A Durham University spokesperson called Mr Hillery a "generous benefactor to the university" and that the institution appreciated his financial support.

They added that the university has "has always prioritised the health, safety and wellbeing of [their] staff, students and wider community."

Mr Hillery's old college Collingwood received £4m 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 amounts behind the Collingwood bar.