Ruskin College

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Ruskin College
Ruskin's Rookery building which is now the Ruskin College Academic Building
Motto "Learning to make a difference"
Established 1899
Principal Dr Chris Wilkes
Location Dunstan Road, Old Headington, Oxfordshire, England
This article is about the English educational institution. For the American college of the same name, see Trenton, Missouri.

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, not a constituent 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.


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

Ruskin College – originally known as Ruskin Hall, Oxford[1] – 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 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."[1] 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.[1] Courses were offered in political economy, sociology, the history of the labor movement, principles of politics, English literature, psychology, and other related aspects of the social sciences.[1]

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.[1] An auxiliary organization 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.[1]

During the World War I, some of the two hundred Belgian refugees who came to Oxford were lodged in the college.[2]

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 model for Plater College until Plater's closing in 2005.[3]

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.[4][5][6]

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 St.[7] 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.

College structure

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.

Courses offered

Ruskin’s educational work may be divided into further education activity (including short courses and TUC courses), supported by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and higher education work, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and income from student fees, and validated by the Open University.

The college’s work in higher education constitutes:

  • An Access to Higher Education Diploma (New for 2014)
  • A two-year Foundation Degree in Writing for Performance
  • One year full-time or two-year part-time Certificates of Higher Education courses in English Studies: Creative Writing and Critical Practice; History; Law; Social Enterprise (leading to a Business degree) and Social and Political Studies; and a part-time (weekend block residential) Certificate of Higher Education in International Labour and Trade Union Studies (part-time)
  • Three-year full-time or six-year part-time BA (Hons) degrees in English Studies: Creative Writing and Critical Practice; History with Social Sciences; Social and Political Studies; Social Work; and Youth and Community Work
  • Six-year part-time, block residential BA (Hons) degree in International Labour and Trade Union Studies
  • MA degrees in International Labour and Trade Union Studies, Women’s Studies, and Public History



Former academics/teachers

Notable alumni

Ruskin Fellowship

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 which can be accessed through the home page of the College's website.

Students Union

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,[22] and it has also given support to the striking nurses in the Karren Reissmann dispute.[23][citation needed]

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Ruskin Hall, Oxford: The People's University," in Joseph Edwards (ed.), The Reformer's Year Book: 1902. Glasgow: Joseph Edwards, 1902; pg. 71.
  2. History of the University of Oxford: Volume VIII: The Twentieth Century - Oxford Scholarship. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198229742.001.0001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Philpot, Terry No second chance for giver of fresh starts. Times Higher Education December 9, 2005
  4. Jericho Echo
  5. TUC | History Online
  6. New Zealand Evening Post 15 May 1909 pg6
  7. The Ruskin College records: Destroying a radical past
  8. W.W. Craik, Central Labour College, 1964
  9. Harold Pollins, ‘Slater, Gilbert (1864–1938)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  10. 10.0 10.1 Harold Pollins, ‘Furniss, Henry Sanderson, Baron Sanderson (1868–1939)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  11. Richard Aldrich, The Independent (London), Jun 17, 2005
  12. Bill Bailey, ‘Hughes, Herbert Delauney [Billy] (1914–1995)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  13. Enwonwu, Benedict Chuka. Britannica Book of the Year, 1995. Encyclopædia Britannica Online accessed 30 July 2012
  14. Tom Mboya
  15. "Stevens, Siaka." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 5 Jan. 2007 <>.
  16. David Howell: Walker, James (1883–1945) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2006, accessed 30 July 2012
  17. Keith Davies, ‘Williams, Thomas Edward, Baron Williams (1892–1966)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  18. Michael Young, ‘Willmott, Peter (1923–2000)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  19. The Times, Monday, Nov 19, 1979; pg. 25; Issue 60478; col C
  20. Geoffrey Goodman, ‘Woodcock, George (1904–1979)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  21. Andrew Thorpe, ‘Young, Sir Robert (1872–1957)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  22. Fitzsimons, Peter (2013-01-18). "Griffin protest outside Oxford Union". Cherwell (newspaper). Oxford Student Publications Limited. Archived from the original on 2013-11-13. Retrieved 2013-11-13. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links