Ruskin's Rookery building which is now the Ruskin College Academic Building
|Motto||"Learning to make a difference"|
|Principal||Paul Di Felice|
Dunstan Road, Old Headington,
Ruskin College, originally known as Ruskin Hall, Oxford, is an independent educational institution in Oxford, England. It is named after the essayist and social critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) and specialises in providing educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. The college is an affiliate of the University of Oxford; this relationship allows students special privileges such as attending lectures and the use of most facilities.
Mission and purpose
The mission of the college has always been to provide educational opportunities to adults who are excluded and disadvantaged, and to transform the individuals concerned along with the communities, groups and societies from which they come, the only change having been to personalise the language (away from 'the excluded', who do not sound like people) in line with growing equalities awareness. The mission statement is twofold:
- The first aim, that of giving individuals a second chance in education, continues to be achieved by admitting those with few or no formal qualifications to courses of study that can result in, or lead on to, university-level qualifications.
- The second aim, the transformational element of the mission, is evidenced by the fact that the most frequent thing former students say about Ruskin is that it changed their lives. Students, whether or not they themselves are resident, benefit from studying in a setting with a strong sense of academic community and from the intensive tutorial teaching that Ruskin offers. The college is also transformational because it sees education as a vehicle for progressive social change.
Ruskin tends towards a curriculum that has high social relevance, students who want to make a difference in the world, and forms of academic scholarship and research that are engaged and applied.
Ruskin’s mission is also pursued by means of strong historical links, nationally and internationally, with the labour and trade union movement, other social movements and activism around social issues (e.g., anti-ageism), as well as with local communities, for example through the Social Work and Youth and Community work programmes.
Ruskin College – originally known as Ruskin Hall, Oxford – was established in 1899 specifically to provide educational opportunities for working-class men, who were denied access to university. It was deliberately placed in Oxford, the city in which its young American founders, Charles A. Beard, James Alfred Dale MA (Oxon) (1875-1951) Lecturer at Merton College Oxford and later Professor of McGill and Toronto universities in Canada, and Walter Vrooman, had studied, because the city symbolised the educational privilege and standards to which ordinary people could never previously have aspired. It was Walter Vrooman's then wife, Amne (later Amne Grafflin), who financially supported the foundation of the college.
The school was envisioned as a mechanism by which "working-class reformers" could "educate themselves efficiently at nominal cost." Tuition, lodging, and board was priced at 12-1/2 shillings per week (20 shillings = £1), with a parallel correspondence course alternatively offered for 1 shilling per week plus a 1 shilling entrance fee. Courses were offered in political economy, sociology, the history of the labour movement, principles of politics, English literature, psychology, and other related aspects of the social sciences.
The school was administered by a General Council, which included elected representatives from the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress and the Central Board of the Cooperative Union. An auxiliary organisation of supporters of the school was launched in 1901, the Ruskin Hall Educational League, which arranged conferences and public lectures in conjunction with the activities of the school.
Ruskin College became, in turn, a symbol of workers' education. It served as a model for labour colleges around the world, and Gandhi made a point of visiting during a brief stay in Oxford in 1931 because he had been so inspired by the writings of John Ruskin on workers' education, just as the college founders had been.
Strike of 1909
In 1908, a group of Ruskin students, dissatisfied with its education policy which they viewed as too pro-establishment and imbued with elements of "social control", formed the Plebs' League. The students' revolt was supported by the Principal, Dennis Hird, and following his dismissal the students took strike action, refusing to attend lectures.
Relocation of the college
A £17m redevelopment programme of the college's Old Headington site was completed in 2012, and the headquarters of the college has moved there from the more central original site in Walton Street. The redeveloped site has a new academic building incorporating an expanded library, named the Callaghan Library in honour of former Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, who made a major education speech at Ruskin in 1976. The MacColl/Seeger archive has its own dedicated room within the new library. All other buildings on the site have been refurbished, the grounds have been improved and the walled garden, with its listed 'crinkle crankle wall' has been brought back into use by local volunteers. A cafeteria is open to the public.
2019 trade union controversy
In 2019, Ruskin College management attracted controversy for firing trade union representatives. On March 27, the Ruskin College branch of University and College Union passed a motion of no confidence in the principal, Paul Di Felice. On March 28, the branch's membership secretary, Dr Lee Humber, circulated the motion, and, on March 29, he was suspended. On July 12, Dr Humber was fired. The branch asserted that by August 9, five branch officers had lost their jobs for standing up to management bullying, incompetence and lies. The leaders of ten UK trade unions wrote a letter to express "profound concerns about the way Ruskin College management appears to be victimising UCU trade union reps". The entire social work department resigned in protest at the way the management were treating students, erosion of the values of Ruskin by the management and the victimisation of staff. Ruskin college management stated that they refute "all allegations of victimisation of union reps and would like to reiterate that the ongoing disciplinary investigations are entirely separate from any trade union activity undertaken by those involved". 2019 saw a historic display of solidarity when graduates of every HE course bar one, organised an alternate graduation celebration and boycotting the official ceremony, in protest of the management of the College and its treatment of staff and students.
Student enrollments at Ruskin in 2005–2006 reached their highest ever number in the college's history. Enrolments on long courses were 294 in total across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Short course enrolments reached 5,187 in total, including trade union courses, residential short courses and the largest ever Summer School.
In 2005–06, there were 78 full-time equivalent academic staff of whom 26 were teaching staff and 13 teaching support services staff.
2017 - 2019 saw a huge turnover of staff with around 120 staff leaving the college. The college has 5 managers, 8 teaching staff and 11 support staff according to the college web site
- 1899–1909 James Dennis Hird (1st Principal)
- 1909–16 Gilbert Slater
- 1916–25 Henry Sanderson Furniss, 1st Baron Sanderson
- 1926–45 Alfred Barratt Brown
- 1945–50 Herbert Lionel Elvin
- 1950–79 Herbert Delauney "Billy" Hughes
- 1979–89 John Hughes
- 1989–97 Stephen Yeo
- 1998–2003 James Durcan
- 2004–13 Professor Audrey Mullender
- 2014–24 March 2016 Dr Chris Wilkes
- 2016–present Paul Di Felice
- Clement Attlee, Labour Prime Minister (1945–1951)
- Paul Brodetsky, tutor in political theory and industrial relations (1963-1978)
- Peter Donaldson, economist, author and broadcaster
- Tom Mboya, Kenyan politician
- Bill McCarthy, Lord McCarthy, Labour Party politician
- Raphael Samuel, writer and historian
- Henry Sanderson Furniss, Lord Sanderson (1907–1916)
- David Selbourne (1966–86), writer
- Jack Ashley (1922–2012), Baron Ashley of Stoke, Labour Member of Parliament
- Michael Berry Jr (2011–2013), actor
- Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South
- Ben Enwonwu, Nigerian artist
- R. M. Fox, author and historian
- Judy Fryd, Founder of Mencap
- Jack Hilton (1900-1983), British novelist, essayist, and travel writer
- Jónas Jónsson, Icelandic educator and politician
- Ross Higgins (1883-1975) Ugandan pastor and environmentalist
- Lucy Lameck (1934–1992), Tanzanian politician and Minister
- Tom Mboya (1930–1969), Kenya civil rights hero, Minister of Economic Planning and Development
- Adams Oshiomhole, former Nigeria Labour Union President; Former Governor of Edo State, Current Chairman of the All Progressives Congress.
- Walter Padley, trade union leader and Labour MP for Ogmore
- John Prescott, Labour former deputy prime minister
- Phil Sawford, former Labour MP for Kettering
- Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover
- Siaka Probyn Stevens, Prime Minister and President of Sierra Leone
- James Walker (1883–1945), trade unionist and Labour politician
- Thomas Edward Williams, 1st Baron Williams, Co-operative and Labour politician
- George Woodcock, general secretary, Trade Union Congress
- William Woodruff, historian and writer.
- Robert Young, trade unionist, Labour Member of Parliament
The Ruskin Fellowship is an alumni association for ex-Ruskin College students and staff. Independent of but associated with the college, the Fellowship aims to support the work and ethos of the college in offering university-level education to disadvantaged adults in Britain. There is also a post graduate programme and an international section involving: International Labour and Trade Union Studies; Webb and Chevening Scholars.
The Ruskin Fellowship was founded in the academic year 1911/1912 and held its first "Annual Meet" on 27 May 1912. This tradition continues with an Annual Reunion held in September of each year. The Reunion is held over a weekend and incorporates speakers on relevant topics, a social activity including a bar, music and a buffet and, on the Sunday morning of the Reunion weekend, the Fellowship's Annual General Meeting (AGM). The AGM elects an Executive Committee to run the Fellowship for the following 12 months. A history of the Fellowship was produced in 2012 to mark the centenary of the Fellowship's first "Annual Meet".
A pamphlet on The History of the College and the Fellowship During World War One has been published as part of the commemoration of the War.
The Ruskin Fellowship has a web page that can be accessed through the home page of the College's website.
The Ruskin Students Union is known for its political and social endeavours. In January 2013, it joined a Unite Against Fascism protest at the Oxford Union when it invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party to speak, and it has also given support to the striking nurses in the Karen Reissmann dispute.
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- Corin Williams, "Karen Reissmann plumps for out of court settlement", Community Care, 29 January 2009.