OXFORD’S Ruskin College is facing accusations of destroying a historic archive, with the records of former students being needlessly shredded.

The row over the fate of student records broke out as the college completed its move from its central Oxford base in Walton Street, its home for more than a century.

The college, which has close links to the Labour Party and trade union movement, says it decided that some documents could no longer be held because of data protection reasons. It said important details had been digitised onto an electronic database.

But Ruskin has come under attack from former members who accused the college of “trashing” an important archive.

They have now organised an online petition to “stop further vandalism and archive destruction,” which has already attracted 1,600 signatures.

The row is threatening to overshadow the official opening of Ruskin’s campus in Old Headington later this month, following the site’s £17m redevelopment into the college’s main Oxford campus.

Dr Hilda Kean, a former dean of the college, wrote on a blog: “Much material from Ruskin’s past has already been physically trashed. This includes admission records of the trade union students who attended Ruskin in its first decades. These were activists sponsored by their unions, who usually went back into the trade union and Labour movement as leaders.

“Such archival matter is like gold dust to Labour and social historians, enabling a better understanding of the political and cultural life of working class people in the 20th century. With the huge interest in family and local history, it is the sort of material descendants find fascinating.”

Ruskin College’s best-known former student, former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, had been delighted to find his student files still existed when he came to write his autobiography five years ago.

Principal of Ruskin, Prof Audrey Mullender, dismissed the claims.

She said: “We have expended a great deal of money, time and care on moving the college heritage and the MacColl Seeger archive into specially-designed space in the new library at Headington and other appropriate places around the college.

“A miners’ strike banner, for example, that Dr Kean alleged had gone missing, had its own vehicle, with two teams working together to move and hang it.”

She added: “The one thing we have done is to digitise the demographic and course-related information from our student records in an interactive database in a way that complies with data protection legislation but which will allow our alumni to stay in touch with us and one another.”