About the Centre

About the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change

Who was Robert Owen?

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was a visionary social and educational reformer who combined ideas from the enlightenment with his own experiences of the Industrial Revolution to produce a series of essays outlining A New View of Society. Primarily these publications argued for deep social change with a focus on education at its core. With the support of sleeping partners Owen put his ideas to the test in New Lanark these ideas were he launched an Institute for the Formation of Character and a new approach to all phases of education from pre-school to adult education. After the launch of the New Lanark experiment Owen took his ideas to America, attempting to establish a Community of Equality at New Harmony, Indiana (1824-28).

Why the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change?

Almost two hundred years prior to the launch of the University of Glasgow’s Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, on 24th December 1813 the Glasgow Herald advertised New Lanark for sale. Robert Owen bought this site which is probably the same building officially opened as the Institute for the Formation of Character in 1816. The Institute consisted of a lower floor with three apartments where the lower classes were taught reading, natural history and geography. On the second floor the main school room was set up on the Lancastrian plan and a second smaller room had a gallery at one end where an orchestra could play and was used as a ballroom, lecture room and on occasion an additional reading room for classes. Owen provided new hope for working class communities and place education at the centre of social change New Lanark experiment became the forerunner to community schooling and is now become internationally recognised as a test-bed for his ideas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

An internationalist and communitarian, Owen was born in Wales, created his wealth in England and explored possibilities for reform in the USA. However, it is Scotland where Owen’s vision and aspirations have rooted most deeply. The values and vision of the University of Glasgow’s Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change are underpinned by Owen’s ideals in New Lanark and beyond.

For further information on the work of Robert Owen see:

What are the Key Aims of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change?

The Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change aims to promote more equitable education systems through theory-driven, applied research underpinned by a commitment to the principles of social justice and lifelong learning.

In meeting these aims the Centre will undertake high quality internationally recognised research that blurs the boundaries and strengthens to connection between research, policy and practice. The Centre has a strong commitment to working with those in the field to develop local approaches that make a difference to the life chances of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds by:

  • creating new understandings;
  • developing frameworks and tools to promote individual achievement and positive system change, which
  • has a robust evidence-base, and thus
  • underpins the re-framing of policy as well as generating new knowledge and developments in practice.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of the Centre we take a broad view of an education ‘system’.  We therefore seek to understand the relationships and transitions between all phases of formal education, from pre-school to the university sector, how they interact with broader public service and societal issues from social and economic perspectives.

What Questions Guide the Work of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change?

The work of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change is guided by three overarching questions:

(a) What policies and practices promote equitable education systems?

(b) How and why do these policies and practices break down the link between disadvantage and low educational outcomes for young people?


c) What are the social and economic impact of policies and practices that promote equitable education?

What does the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change do?

The Centre is committed to offering a range of activities, including:

  • Research and evaluation
  • Support for collaborative inquiry-driven D&R initiatives
  • Consultancy and strategic advice
  • Publications for a range of audiences (academic, policy and practitioner). For example, Academic books and articles, think pieces, literature reviews research summaries, policy and practice briefs guidance.
  • Diagnostic and problem-solving frameworks, platforms, tools and materials
  • Opportunities for accreditation for ‘M’ level learning
  • Opportunities for Doctoral study
  • Knowledge mobilisation events, seminars and workshops

These diverse activities and outputs are designed to stimulate and support education and broader public services to deliver more equitable outcomes for the individuals and communities they serve.

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