Union courses under threat at Oxford’s ‘worker’s college’

Ten union leaders have written to Ruskin College to protest the treatment of union reps and the dropping of union HE courses.

Ten union leaders have written to Ruskin College, Oxford to protest at the treatment of union representatives and the dropping of trade union HE courses.

Union Representative Lee Humber was sacked from the college just days after organising a vote of ‘no confidence’ in its principle. Other staff are subject to ongoing disciplinary action.

The college is also seeking to axe a further four roles, in a move that the University and College Union (UCU) says will kill off all trade union higher education at the college.

Those included on the letter include Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NEU, Michelle Stasnistreet of the NUJ and Mark Serwotka of the PCS.

Ruskin College was originally established in 1899 with a specific remit of being a workers college and supporting the trade union movement.

The letter argues that current actions ‘risk undermining the founding principles of the institution” and that “There can never be an excuse to victimise or harass trade union reps.”

UCU Acting General Secretary Paul Cottrill said: “Ruskin College makes much of its links to the wider union movement and origins as a workers’ college, which makes the sacking of union reps all the more offensive. Staff have made it clear they have no faith in the direction the management is heading, but Ruskin’s response has been to get rid of people trying to highlight the problems.  

The current spate of redundancies will essentially kill off trade union higher education courses at the college as it lurches from educating and nurturing trade unionists to sacking them.”

Ruskin College refutes all allegations of victimisation of union representatives. They also argue that the courses are being dropped due to lack of take up and low student retention.

The union is due to meet with the college on Friday and are considering taking further action including calling for a boycott of the college by all trade unions.

The full text of the letter and a list of signatories can be read below.

Emma Burnell is a freelance journalist with Left Foot Forward.

We write to you in our respective capacities as General Secretaries of ten national trade unions, to raise our profound concerns about the way Ruskin College management appears to be victimising trade union reps from the University and College Union (UCU).   

Given the proud history of the College – built on Labour movement values – we are concerned that this course of action is not only wrong in itself, but also risks undermining the founding principles of the institution.  

As we understand it, three reps have been placed under unwarranted disciplinary investigation, whilst a further two union members have been placed at risk of redundancy.   If financial circumstances are difficult, we would expect management to enter into serious discussions to explore a way of resolving the situation.  There can never be an excuse to victimise or harass trade union reps.

We would ask that you drop all disciplinary proceedings and withdraw threats of redundancy and pursue a constructive approach towards working with UCU reps going forward.  Otherwise, we stand ready to give our full support and solidarity to members of Ruskin College staff should they move towards taking industrial action.


Ian Lawrence (Chair of TUCG, and General Secretary, NAPO)

Ronnie Draper (General Secretary, BFAWU)

Matt Wrack (General Secretary, FBU)

Michelle Stanistreet (General Secretary, NUJ)

Kevin Courtney (General Secretary, NEU)

Mark Serwotka (General Secretary, PCS)

Steve Gillan (General Secretary, POA)

Mick Cash (General Secretary, RMT)

Dr. Jo Grady (General Secretary, UCU)

Bob Monks (General Secretary, URTU)

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2 Responses to “Union courses under threat at Oxford’s ‘worker’s college’”

  1. Dave Roberts

    What exactly are Trades Union studies?

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