Higher Education Minister follows in Ruskin’s footsteps as he lectures on expanding access to University

Published: 23 October 2007 at 11:45

Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State, Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, has spoken of his wish to see a future where everyone can enjoy access to learning, during his delivery of the The Ruskin Lecture 2007 at Anglia Ruskin University’s East Road campus in Cambridge.

As Anglia Ruskin University prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary year, in 2008, the Univesity has staged its second lecture in honour of John Ruskin (1819-1900) to confirm the importance of his links with the University. The lecture was inaugurated last year to commemorate, not only, the foundation of the University but to underline the link between its heritage and its contemporary values.

When the Cambridge School of Art was founded in October 1858, John Ruskin, the leading art critic and philanthropist of the period, gave the ‘Inaugural Address’. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge presided with the Mayor of Cambridge in attendance. Nearly 150 years later, in October 2005, the title Anglia Ruskin University was granted by the Privy Council to reinforce the growing reputation of one of the UK’s fastest developing universities which is committed to making higher education available to all.

The lecture focused on the impact that higher education had on Bill Rammell’s life and the challenges that he identifies in opening access more fairly to all parts of society. He quoted John Ruskin, whom he described as one of the fathers of the British Labour movement, as saying:

“The entire object of true education, is to make people not merely do the right thing, but to enjoy right things; not merely industrious, but to love industry’ not merely learned, but to love knowledge.”

He went on to talk about how university has changed over the years, since he took an honours degree in French at University College, Cardiff.

“These days we talk a lot about a university’s role in providing a wide base of high-level skills for the economy. But in previous times the task was still very consciously to train as part of an elite. When you got a place at university, you were very conscious of joining what was still a very exclusive club. That was especially true of young people, like me, who came from ordinary working class backgrounds and who were the first in their families to enter higher education.”

He also touched on the subject of the new tuition fees and student financial support arrangements, introduced last year, and confirmed that the creation of such fees has not reduced demand for higher education. The numbers of acceptances to courses starting this autumn were, he confirmed, up 6% on last year and up about 2% on 2005 which was the previous record.

Giving more good news, he announced that the AimHigher programme, developed to encourage more students from under-represented social classes into higher education, would continue to run until 2011 as an outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

He also spoke of expanding higher education in the workplace.

“With 70% of the workforce already in work, we can only achieve our ambitions in this way. The big future expansion of higher education will not, in my view, be traditional 18-21 year olds going to leafy campuses. But more mature students studying in the workplace.”

In summary, he concluded:

“As we move towards the truly mass higher education system that our country needs and deserves, our universities must intensify their efforts to reach out towards their local communities – schools, further education providers and businesses. That is the real challenge.”

At university Bill Rammell served a sabbatical year at Cardiff as President of the Students’ Union.  After graduation, he was a management trainee with British Rail, then became a Regional Official with the National Union of Students. He was subsequently Head of Youth Services at Basildon Council before becoming General Manager of Student Services at the University of London.

In 1977, he was elected as the Labour Member of Parliament for Harlow.

Now, as Minister of State, his responsibilities include further education and skills strategy and implementation.

Those attending the lecture included MPs, MEPs, local councillors, the Mayor of Cambridge, regional partners, members of the NHS, as well as representatives from EEDA and the Learning and Skills Council.

Prior to the lecture, attendees took part in a reception in the Ruskin Gallery which is currently showing an exhibition of the work of master engraver and illustrator John Lawrence entitled Through the Looking Glass.

John Lawrence has contributed to well over 150 books for children and adults as an illustrator and wood-engraver. He is renowned for his striking images that use tools and methods of engraving from the eighteenth century. Twice winner of the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award, his illustrated titles include Lyra's Oxford by Phillip Pullman, Tiny's Big Adventure by Martin Waddell and Christmas in Exeter Street by Diane Hendry. He has also illustrated his own titles included This Little Chick, published in 2002 and which received much critical acclaim for the stunning vinyl engravings. 

His work covers a range from picture books to private press, including several books for the Folio Society. He has been a part-time lecturer for most of his career, first at Brighton School of Art in the 1960's and later at Camberwell School of Art. He is currently visiting professor at Cambridge School of Art, where he lectures on the MA in Children's Book Illustration course.

His work is in several public collections including the V&A, the Ashmolean, the Museum of Wales, as well as collections in the USA.