Ruskin College

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Ruskin College
Ruskin College Academic building.jpg
Ruskin's Rookery building which is now the Ruskin College Academic Building
Motto"Learning to make a difference"
PrincipalPaul 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, art and social critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) and specialises in providing educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. The college formerly had links with the University of Oxford.[1][2] Degrees taught at Ruskin were awarded by the Open University.[1] The college planned to merge with Activate Learning from July 2021, but instead merged with the University of West London during August 2021.

Mission and purpose[edit]

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.


Part of the 1901 class of students at Ruskin Hall, Oxford (Ruskin College).

Ruskin College – originally known as Ruskin Hall, Oxford[3] – 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."[3] Tuition, lodging, and board was priced at 12s 6d (£0.625)) per week, with a parallel correspondence course alternatively offered for 1 shilling (£0.05) per week plus a 1 shilling entrance fee.[3] 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.[3]

The school was administered by a General Council, which included elected representatives from the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress and the Central Board of the Cooperative Union.[3] 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.[3]

During World War I, some of the two hundred Belgian refugees who came to Oxford were lodged in the college.[4]

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.

Ruskin College was a secular sister-school to and a model for Plater College until Plater's closing in 2005.[5]

Strike of 1909[edit]

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.[6][7][8]


In 1970 Ruskin College hosted the UK's first National Women's Liberation Conference. The conference ran from 27 February to 1 March with between 500 and 600 people attending. British newspaper The Guardian called the conference the "biggest landmarks in British women's history".[9] The conference organisers included Ruskin students Arielle Aberson and Sally Alexander, and historian Sheila Rowbotham. The organisers were associated with the History Workshop seminars held at the college and the conference was initially intended to focus on women's history.[10]

Relocation of the college[edit]

A £17m redevelopment programme of the college's Old Headington site was completed in 2012, and the headquarters of the college moved there from the more central original site in Walton Street.[11] 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.

Around this time, parts of the college's archives were controversially destroyed. The college asserted that it was legally required to dispose of the records because they contained personally identifying information.[12][13][14]


In February 2021 the College agreed to merge with Activate Learning.[15] In May 2021 the College Principal was suspended.[16] In August 2021 it was announced that the College had merged with the University of West London.[17]

College structure[edit]

Student enrolments 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.

Progression rates are excellent, with 87% of students on undergraduate-level Humanities courses at Ruskin having come via short courses there, and a majority of students on long courses going on to degree-level study, both at Ruskin and elsewhere. Ruskin students go on to jobs in professional, trade union and political settings, amongst others.



Former academics/teachers[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]

Ruskin Fellowship[edit]

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.

Students Union[edit]

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 the Union invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party to speak,[31] and it has also given support to the striking nurses in the Karen Reissmann dispute.[32][citation needed]

Notable former executive members of the RSU include John Prescott and Jack Ashley.


  1. ^ a b University programmes Archived 25 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Ruskin College Oxford". The Independent. 8 August 2013. Archived from the original on 25 May 2021. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Ruskin Hall, Oxford: The People's University" in Joseph Edwards (ed.), The Reformer's Year Book: 1902. Glasgow: Joseph Edwards, 1902; p. 71.
  4. ^ History of the University of Oxford: Volume VIII: The Twentieth Century – Oxford Scholarship. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198229742.001.0001. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  5. ^ Philpot, Terry, "No second chance for giver of fresh starts", Times Higher Education, 9 December 2005.
  6. ^ "Jericho Echo". Archived from the original on 5 January 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
  7. ^ "TUC | History Online". Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
  8. ^ "Students Revolt. Novel Situation at Ruskin College" Archived 5 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, New Zealand Evening Post, Volume LXXVII, Issue 114, 15 May 1909, p. 6.
  9. ^ Cochrane, Kira (26 February 2010). "Forty years of women's liberation". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 18 June 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  10. ^ "On This Day at Ruskin: National Women's Liberation Conference". Ruskin College Oxford. Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  11. ^ The Ruskin College records: Destroying a radical past
  12. ^ "Whose Archive? Whose History? Destruction of Archives at Ruskin College, Oxford". History Workshop. 4 October 2012. Archived from the original on 28 June 2021. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Ruskin College, Oxford criticised for destroying archive". BBC News. 30 November 2012. Archived from the original on 2 July 2021. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  14. ^ Guardian Staff (29 October 2012). "Letters: Let the records show the destruction of Ruskin College archive". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 December 2021. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  15. ^ Whieldon, Fraser (26 February 2021). "College facing 'uncertain future' agrees merger partner". FE Week. Archived from the original on 16 June 2021. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  16. ^ Whieldon, Fraser (24 May 2021). "College suspends principal just two months before merger". FE Week. Archived from the original on 16 June 2021. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  17. ^ Rce, Liam (3 August 2021). "Oxford's Ruskin College joins University of West London". Oxford Mail. Archived from the original on 3 August 2021. Retrieved 3 August 2021.
  18. ^ W.W. Craik, Central Labour College, 1964
  19. ^ Harold Pollins, "Slater, Gilbert (1864–1938)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  20. ^ a b Harold Pollins, "Furniss, Henry Sanderson, Baron Sanderson (1868–1939)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  21. ^ Richard Aldrich, The Independent (London), 17 June 2005.
  22. ^ Bill Bailey, "Hughes, Herbert Delauney [Billy] (1914–1995)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  23. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 09 July 2015 (pt 0003)". Archived from the original on 11 July 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  24. ^ "Enwonwu, Benedict Chuka" Archived 14 December 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Britannica Book of the Year, 1995. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. accessed 30 July 2012.
  25. ^ "Stevens, Siaka" Archived 14 December 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 5 January 2007.
  26. ^ David Howell, "Walker, James (1883–1945)" Archived 14 December 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2006, accessed 30 July 2012.
  27. ^ Keith Davies, "Williams, Thomas Edward, Baron Williams (1892–1966)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  28. ^ The Times, Monday, 19 November 1979; p. 25; Issue 60478; col C
  29. ^ Geoffrey Goodman, "Woodcock, George (1904–1979)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  30. ^ Andrew Thorpe, "Young, Sir Robert (1872–1957)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  31. ^ Fitzsimons, Peter (18 January 2013). "Griffin protest outside Oxford Union". Cherwell. Oxford Student Publications Limited. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  32. ^ Corin Williams, "Karen Reissmann plumps for out of court settlement" Archived 13 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Community Care, 29 January 2009.

External links[edit]