Our history

Our story starts in 1858, when the art critic, patron and philanthropist John Ruskin opened Cambridge School of Art. The art school grew to become Anglia Ruskin University, shortened to ARU, and it’s still at the heart of our modern-day campus in Cambridge.

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Becoming ARU

Over the years, a number of colleges and institutes have become part of ARU. They include the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (CCAT) and the Essex Institute of Higher Education (formerly the Chelmer Institute – itself formed from the Mid-Essex Technical College and the Brentwood College of Education). At first, these colleges combined to become Anglia Polytechnic, and then Anglia Polytechnic University in 1992.

We’re proud to count graduates of all these institutions among our alumni.

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Four main campuses

As well as Cambridge, we have campuses in Chelmsford, London and Peterborough, where our newest campus, ARU Peterborough, a brand new university for the city, will open its doors in September 2022. Our Chelmsford campus was originally in the city centre but moved to a new, purpose-built site in 1992. Today, you’ll find our striking, modern buildings nestled by the river in the city’s University and Innovation Quarter. Our campus at Guild House, Peterborough opened in 2011 as a dedicated health, social care and education site where we train many of our region’s nurses and social workers, and these courses will continue to run alongside a number of new courses at ARU Peterborough.

In 2015 we were pleased to introduce a new campus in the heart of London, where students study subjects including business, law and finance at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

We’ve invested over £115 million in our campuses in recent years. Cambridge benefitted from a major redevelopment in 2011, and in 2014 we completed work on our dedicated healthcare site on Young Street. It houses state-of-the-art clinical skills labs including mock hospital wards. Young Street is also home to our specialist Music Therapy Centre. In 2018, we opened a brand new Science Centre and a Law Clinic.

Meanwhile, in Chelmsford we’ve embarked upon an ambitious programme of development. In 1995, Her Majesty The Queen opened the fittingly named Queen’s building, which is home to the University Library. It’s since been joined by (among others) our eye-catching Lord Ashcroft building; Sawyers Building with its SuperLabs; the Michael Salmon Building, which houses cutting-edge medical simulation suites; and Arise Chelmsford, which offers labs, workshops and office space to small businesses in the medical and advanced engineering sectors. The most recent major development is our School of Medicine, which opened in September 2018, and is training the region's future doctors in a purpose-built space featuring state-of-the-art skills facilities.

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A national and international presence

As well as our four main campuses, we have a number of partner institutions in the UK and overseas, giving you the chance to study for an ARU qualification near to home. The first partnerships were formed in the early 1990s. 

Our International Office, set up in 1992, fosters further links, and makes sure that our international students receive the support and information they need.

Developing our expertise

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Our early expertise in the arts and education has broadened, and today we offer courses in computing and technology, engineering, law, business, economics, life sciences and more.

We’ve been a leader in the field of health and social care since 1992, when nursing training was transferred from local health authorities to ARU. As well as our three highly regarded nursing courses, we train midwives, paramedics, operating department practitioners and social workers.

Of course, the arts and education are still important to us. We train early years professionals on our Chelmsford campus, and at our partner college in Peterborough. Our MA Children’s Book Illustration is a world-renowned course that builds on the long tradition of Cambridge School of Art. We’ve embraced 21st-century variations on our more traditional arts courses, too – including computer games art and music technology.

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In the last decade, we’ve forged ahead with our research work. We have research-active staff across the University, and a growing reputation in this area.

You’ll now find six high-profile research institutes and a cross-institutional research centre here. StoryLab was originally known as the Culture of the Digital Economy Research Institute when it formed in 2010. Today, it asks how – in our digital-by default era – people experience the world and their place in it, and experiments with modern, multimodal approaches to storytelling. In 2011, we established the Global Sustainability Institute. It focuses on issues surrounding climate change and sustainability and has quickly gained a reputation for its topical, high-impact research and reports. Next came the Veterans and Families Institute for Military Social Research in 2014, which is carrying out valuable research into the impact of military experience on veterans and their loved ones.

Our newest research institutes were introduced between 2016-2019. The Policing Institute for the Eastern Region, formed in 2016, focuses on research, professional development and knowledge exchange that will improve policing practice in the East of England. Meanwhile, Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research is dedicated to advancing the understanding of music therapy and its ability to effect positive change on health and human wellbeing. Most recently one of our specialist research units, which had long carried out high-quality research into vision and eye diseases, became the Vision and Eye Research Institute, and our Medical Technology Research Centre was established.

Alongside these institutes is a range of research groups, dedicated to subjects as diverse as ecology, finance and economics, cyber security, and political history.

The Government's Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 rated ARU research in sixteen subject areas as ‘world-leading’.

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ARU today

We’ve seen lots of changes since 1858, but one thing has remained the same. We’re still passionate about transforming lives through innovative, inclusive and entrepreneurial education and research.

Today, students from more than 185 countries study with us. Our students are at the heart of our University: their educational experience engages, challenges and empowers them to reach their full potential.

We have always been inclusive, and actively encourage students from a wide range of academic and societal backgrounds to study with us. We measure our success by their success.

Our research and innovation draw on the breadth of ARU strengths to develop ideas and solutions which have the potential to transform lives and communities and enrich our curriculum.

We’re known for being welcoming, and are proud to be a Disability Confident Employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion and a Mindful Employer.

We also value the wider ARU community, as it has the potential to create a university that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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ARU in the future

Our strategy outlines the goals we've set ourselves for the next ten years. Published on 16 June 2017, the 25th anniversary of us being awarded university status, it's the latest chapter in ARU’s story.