A Brief History of Ruskin College by Raymond King

Named after John Ruskin, Ruskin College was founded in 1899 by Charles Austin Beard and Walter Watkins Vrooman with the aim to provide university standard education for working class people.

From the start the college was associated with the organised labour movement and these links remain strong today. The subject areas intentionally moved away from the classical studies of Oxford University to concentrate on the Social Sciences, a tradition that still holds true today.


Our early students were from the miner’s guilds and likewise institutes and our archives hold many fascinating pictures and accounts of their time here. From early on in Ruskin’s History our students have been able to use the Bodleian Library an agreement which is still in place today. This prestigious institution allows students to access anything published within the UK and is an honour not afforded too many institutions outside of the Oxford University remit.
Throughout the First World War the college was used to house Belgian refugees and later was used as a nurse’s hostel. Female students were accepted for the first time in 1919, with an intake of 8 women from a cohort of 50. Unlike the First World War Ruskin continued its teaching programmes through the first year of the Second World War. A change in circumstances ended the hope of continuing teaching throughout the rest of the war years and from 1940-1945 the college buildings were used as a maternity hospital instead of housing residential students.
A month after the war the Ministry of Health released the buildings and teaching was once again brought to Ruskin. In 1946 our Headington site was bought, with the acquisition of Stoke House in the mid 1960’s. This is the site that we have now moved to permanently after a huge project to bring to the college a brand new and technically advanced campus which was completed in 2012.

Ruskin Today

Today Ruskin is an independent college based in Oxford specialising in providing educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. We are still tied to our labour traditions and our subjects reflect this. Education is seen as a vehicle for progressive social change with all of our courses offering a high degree of social relevance. Our main subject areas include Women’s Studies, Trade Union and industrial relations studies, English, History, Social Work and Youth Work.
We understand that for many adults returning to education can be daunting and we strive to produce a friendly and supportive atmosphere throughout the college. The college is one of a handful of colleges which allow students to progress from no formal qualifications through to Master’s degree level and all staff have a deep connection to Ruskin and its values. Ruskin changes lives by offering educational opportunities to those who need a second chance in education welcoming students who wish to develop themselves as well as giving back to society.

Ruskin College Banner

Our Mission and Ethos

The mission of Ruskin College is that of providing educational opportunities to excluded and disadvantaged adults, to transform the individuals concerned and the communities, groups and societies from which they come.
Ruskin is characterised by its enthusiasm, strong sense of academic community, its friendly environment and desire to help students achieve their goals. This nurturing environment is personified by all staff willingness to go above and beyond for the students and the students themselves create a comfortable community of support. There is a strong belief in consultation and the students have an active role in the decision making process of the college with student representatives on the committees and they have their own union.

We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to an education and aspire to create a supportive environment to allow our students to achieve and to change their lives for the better. The most frequent thing former students say about Ruskin is that it changed their lives and we are all dedicated to ensure that this remains the case long into the future.


Why Ruskin

  • The college has a long history of success with socially and economically disadvantaged students
  • We offer the chance to take subjects through to degree level and in some cases masters level
  • The supportive nature of both staff and students
  • The strong ethos of the college linked to a keen sense of social justice
  • The tutorial system allowing for a close working and guided environment between lecturer and student
  • Specialist staff in both subject area and working with adult students
  • Access to the Bodleian and an onsite library housing over 40,000 volumes as well as journals and e-resources.
  • The opportunity to study in Oxford surrounded by many attractions including the Ashmolean, the Oxford Playhouse, many music venues and gyms and pubs.
  • Accommodation at Ruskin College comprises of single study/bedrooms – on a peaceful campus three miles from the centre of Oxford in Old Headington. Some family accommodation is available.
  • Adult education bursaries are available for full time certificate or higher education students. These can include free tuition and a maintenance grant.
  • We are committed to equal opportunities and no form of discrimination whether direct or indirect is tolerated within the college. We strive to create a more equal and humane society and welcome like-minded students.
  • We have an active student union and have student representation in many of the boards held within the college. This ensures that students opinions are taken on board and acted upon.
  • We have public speakers and literary and political meetings as well as music event and creative writing/ poetry readings.
  • Oxford blue cards are available allowing our students to go to many of the Oxford University lectures.
  • Our campus has a newly built educational building offering up-to-date architectural designs and a fantastic working environment on a peaceful and scenic campus.


For any more information about the college please see: –



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For more information on the History of Ruskin please see any of the following publications: –

  • A History of Ruskin College by Harold Pollins ISBN 0900183152
  • Ruskin College: Contesting Knowledge, dissenting politics by Hilda Kean, Geoff Andrews and Sally Morgan.