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In the first years of the movement, University Extension lectures were used as much as possible,
but the high cost, the disconnected form of study and what Mansbridge called "undemocratic
methods of organisation" convinced people that the system was not satisfactory. The answer,
they felt, was the tutorial class, a small class of not more than 30 to 40 members
who would commit themselves to sustained study at a high academic level over a period of three
In 1907, there were several developments. At a conference in Oxford, representatives of workers'
organisations and educational organisations approved the formation of a Joint Committee of
Oxford University and the WEA for the administration of tutorial classes and Sir Robert Morant,
then Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education, committed his department to financial aid.
The Oxford Joint Committee, which was formed the following year. gradually became the
accepted pattern for co-operation between the WEA and the universities all over the country.
Although the tutorial class inherited many of the characteristics of the Extension course, there
were important differences. The local organising body was a branch of a recognised national
movement with a clearly defined set of objectives; it was able to express the wishes of the
students as regards to choice of subject and tutor, and the emphasis in the choice of subjects was
largely on social and economic studies.
The cost of the classes was shared; the universities provided nearly half, the Board of Education
about a third, and the remainder was covered by grants from local education authorities and other
In the same year - 1907 - two tutorial classes were started, in Longton and Rochdale, with R H
Tawney as tutor. Professor Tawney's remarkable gifts as a tutor and the outstanding success of
these two classes helped to establish the three year tutorial class as the backbone of WEA
education in these early years.
From the outset, the Association was based on local groups of students. Such students helped to
establish WEA branches all over the country and the number of branches expanded rapidly. By
1910, there were over 70; the number more than doubled by the outbreak of the 1914 war; and
trebled again in the inter-war years. By 1945, there were over 800 branches and today the
figure remains fairly constant at just under a thousand.
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