Papers of Ronald Haig Wilson (1917-2005)

Scope and Content

Papers of Ronald (Ronnie) Wilson, mainly relating to his career in adult education in Germany and England, 1945-2005, including: biographical information on Wilson, 1992-2005; papers related to his work in post-war Germany, 1945-1963; papers regarding his career in adult education in the UK, 1950-[2003]; writings and papers by Wilson and others on various subjects regarding adult education in Germany and the UK, educational reconstruction in post war Germany, 1947-2002; conference papers collected by Wilson from Anglo-German conferences, German adult education conferences, and other conferences on adult education mainly after his return to the UK, 1952-2002; general correspondence, 1952-1996; papers regarding prominent adult educationalists, 1947-1999; and photographs, 1952-2003. A large proportion of the collection is in German.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ronald (Ronnie) Haig Wilson (1917-2005) was a prominent educationalist who devoted his life to the advancement of international adult education in UK and Europe.

Born in Edinburgh on 30 October 1917, he specialized in the study of languages at school, influenced by educational cruises to Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. From 1935-1938 he studied German and French at St Andrew's University. Wilson was part of an exchange scholarship to Germany from 1938-1939, where he had first hand experience of the Third Reich regime and Nazi propaganda.

He joined the army after completing his MA in 1940, first serving with the Royal Artillery. He later volunteered for the intelligence corps and was based at Fort William, where he was responsible for military security and counter intelligence. While stationed at Fort William he became involved in the incident which was the inspiration for Compton Mackenzie's novel 'Whiskey Galore'. In the last months of the War he was stationed in Germany where his knowledge of the language and the country were used to help with the war effort. After the war he was in a unit which gathered intelligence necessary for the aims of the occupation to be carried out and was seconded to carry out work for Education Control.

On his discharge from the army in 1946 he worked for the 'Education Branch of the Internal Affairs and Communication Division, Control Commission for Germany (British Element)'. In 1947 he was posted to Rhineland/Westphalia where he liaised with the German administration and educational institutions, but was soon moved to the adult education section, for which he was initially 'less than enthusiastic'. From 1947-1958 Wilson worked for the Education Branch (Control Commission for Germany), later the Cultural Department of the British High Commission, travelling extensively through North Rhine/Westphalia, moving to Berlin in 1950, and Bonn in 1956. His work involved meeting with adult education principals and organisers; promoting internationally based and staffed residential conferences and summer schools; and helping rebuild the shattered society. While stationed in Berlin he also observed adult education provision in East Berlin and was part of the Cultural Relations Group, Berlin. Wilson also helped found the Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband (DVV), a German adult education association, in 1953. While working in Germany, Wilson met his future wife, Edith, whom he married in 1949. In 1957 the British Government decided to close the Education branch and he returned to the UK.

In February 1958 he was appointed the Senior Adult Tutor at Ivanhoe Community College in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. In 1962 he moved to a newly created post of Educational Organiser (Further Education) for Huddersfield, where he established a joint school/adult provision at the Almondbury campus where a full time adult educator was employed, who was not subservient to the head of the school.

In 1964 he became the head of Manchester's College of Adult Education, the post for which he is most remembered in the UK. Wilson presided over the expansion of its work, and over saw the building of the purpose built college which fully opened in 1975. He retired in 1980 and it was his great regret that the College closed in 1990.

He was an active member of the Educational Centres Association (ECA) from the early 1970s and was elected the President of the ECA from 1994-1996. He also served briefly on the Leicestershire county Council (1958-1962) and the Huddersfield Education Authority (1962-1964). In his retirement he continued to teach adult education and represented the ECA at various conferences. He strove throughout his life to ensure that British Educators and the Educational Centres Association were always aware of the international nature of adult education with European culture. He was highly esteemed by his German speaking colleagues and was a tireless supporter of his international links. He died on 1st January 2005.


The collection was arranged to reflect Wilson's career. Documents have been largely arranged chronologically within series and sub-series. The documents are in English unless otherwise stated in descriptions.

Access Information


Open, subject to signature of Reader Application Form.


The Institute of Education Archives would like to thank Mrs Edith Wilson for her assistance in the completion of this catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

A reader wishing to publish any quotation of information, including pictorial, derived from any archive material must apply in writing for prior permission from the Archivist or other appropriate person(s) as indicated by the Archivist. A limited number of photocopies may be supplied at the discretion of the Archivist.

Appraisal Information

Duplicates were removed from the collection.

Custodial History

Given by Mrs Edith Wilson in April and Dec 2006.

Related Material

The Institute of Education also hold the records of the German Educational Reconstruction (DC/GER).