Balliol may have a reputation for elitism — there was that unfortunate remark by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, himself a graduate of the college, about Balliol men engendering “a tranquil consciousness of effortless superiority” — but in truth the college has long been a pioneer in the field of bringing education to a wider public.

Even that arch-elitist Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), master of Balliol from 1870 until his death — who confessed “a general prejudice against all persons who do not succeed in the world” — tried harder than most of his contemporaries to ensure that clever boys from poorer homes were enabled to come up to Oxford (and thereby join that elite).

But it was Arthur Lionel Smith (1850-1924), master from 1916 — who himself closely fitted Jowett’s ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body, being a top oarsman, hockey player, and cyclist, as well as obtaining a first-class degree — who really championed the work of the University Extension Delegacy.

Both he and his successor as master, Alexander Lindsay (1879-1952), promoted working-class adult education, and Balliol became an early host college for summer schools in the vacations.

Smith was a leading light, along with other academics, notably at New College and St John’s, in the founding and development of what was to become the Workers’ Education Association (WEA), which was formally constituted at a conference in Oxford in August 1903 — although Albert and Frances Mansbridge had already founded it earlier that year as the Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men at a meeting in their kitchen, with working capital of 2s 6d (12.5 pence) drawn from his wife Frances’s housekeeping money.

As Dr Lawrence Goldman wrote in his book Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850 (Clarendon Press 1995): “The WEA may have begun in Mansbridge’s kitchen in Ilford, but in a very real sense its early home was Oxford, and the credibility it won with Oxford dons was crucial to its strategy of winning public acceptance and state funding for its initiatives.”

Mansbridge (1876-1952) was born in Gloucester. He attended Battersea Grammar School but left at the age of 14 to work as an office boy.

He became interested in the co-operative movement and at 18 he entered for a co-operative scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, but was beaten by someone who was already an undergraduate.

But he had seen his role in life and, despite working as a clerk for the Co-Operative Wholsale Society with few prospects of bettering his lot, he and his wife Frances, whom he had met as a fellow Sunday school teacher, decided to devote themselves to the cause of co-operative education and furthering its association with the University Extension Delegacy.

At the 1903 Oxford conference he was appointed honorary secretary of the Association by a gathering of academics, leaders of the co-operative movement, trade unionists, and churchmen.

At another Oxford conference in 1907, his close alliance with academics, including Smith, resulted in a report called Oxford and Working-Class Education, which provided the framework for bright WEA students to ultimately work their way to taking up full-time courses at Oxford University.

Other universities followed Oxford’s lead, but such was the take-up that lack of money soon led to the adoption of a policy of offering summer schools to almost all-comers rather than concentrating on undergraduate places for a selected few.

By 1910 there were over 70 WEA branches and by 1914 about 150.

As for Mansbridge, he was awarded an honorary degree, not only from Oxford, but also from Cambridge and Manchester universities.