Ruskin College has confirmed its decision to cut its Women’s Studies MA programme, after an extended period of speculation and online pressure.

Speaking to Cherwell, Chris Wilkes, Ruskin College’s Principal, confirmed the decision to close the course was taken on Friday 13th March  and explained the financial difficulties facing the College.

He commented, “This academic year has seen a dramatic change in the College’s funding which has resulted in the removal of a substantial higher education subsidy… It is within this climate of funding cuts that the College has undertaken a comprehensive curriculum review.

“The College remains committed to its mission and this is reflected in the revised curriculum offer… The key themes of gender, class and race will be embedded within all our programmes. Looking forward, the College is aiming to maintain the number of women on our higher education programmes.”

Founded in 1899, Ruskin College originally sought to provide university-standard education for working class people to enable them to act more effectively on behalf of working class communities and organisations, including trade unions.

The College continues to specialise in providing educational opportunities to adults who are excluded and disadvantaged, describing itself as “providing educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications”. 

The College has promised to support those who have already enrolled in the programme if they wish to finish their degree.

A petition to avert the discontinuation of the course on change.org had reached 824 signatures at the time of writing. Comments made by signatories to this petition suggest that the Women’s Studies MA may not be the only course to close with little or no consultation, with concerns also raised in particular about the future of the College’s English degree.

Saskia Ritchie, Chief Executive of Cheshire without Abuse and a student on the course who started the petition, agreed that the College had not been transparent about the nature of the proposal.

She told Cherwell, “There has been no communication. When asked in another meeting how much consultation had taken place, the Vice-Principal said that six consultations were undertaken but could give no detail. In addition, when pressed, he agreed that consultation opportunities were available only to resident students. The MA is a part time course and has never had a residential cohort.”

Ritchie added, “Women’s Studies is a unique programme of study that allows me to use personal experience to explore political, historical, sociological, philosophical and academic understanding of my chosen field [domestic abuse]. My dissertation will both inform and be informed by my work, my life and my politics.”

According to its website, the programme, believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, “asks students to consider the ways in which gender intersects with other power structures… [it attempts to] explain the ways in which women have been made invisible in the world and to think about the ways in which activism can and does change the world.”

The course was notable for being one of the few graduate-level courses open to students without prior qualifications. Instead, it accepted candidates with a similar level of intellect or those who could show evidence of relevant experience in organisations such as trade unions and political movements.