Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Co-operative Higher Education

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education (click to enlarge)

SSC members, Mike Neary and Joss Winn have a new journal article out in the Open Library of the Humanities. It is a longer companion piece to their article in LATISS. The original research was funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation and is now being further developed by funding from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, where the framework is being explored in the context of four case studies

Here’s the abstract:

Universities in the UK are increasingly adopting corporate governance structures, a consumerist model of teaching and learning, and have the most expensive tuition fees in the world (McGettigan, 2013; OECD, 2015). This paper discusses collaborative research that aimed to develop and define a conceptual framework of knowledge production grounded in co-operative values and principles. The main findings are outlined relating to the key themes of our research: knowledge, democracy, bureaucracy, livelihood, and solidarity. We consider how these five ‘catalytic principles’ relate to three identified routes to co-operative higher education (conversion, dissolution, or creation) and argue that such work must be grounded in an adequate critique of labour and property i.e. the capital relation. We identify both the possible opportunities that the latest higher education reform in the UK affords the co-operative movement as well as the issues that arise from a more marketised and financialised approach to the production of knowledge (HEFCE, 2015). Finally, we suggest ways that the co-operative movement might respond with democratic alternatives that go beyond the distinction of public and private education.

Read the article online or download from OLH.

ISRF-funded project on Co-operative Higher Education

Co-op HE Framework Poster Just over a year ago, SSC Scholars, Joss Winn and Mike Neary, received funding from the Independent Social Research Foundation to develop a ‘model for co-operative higher education’. This work has been documented on the SSC website over the past 13 months. The formal period of the funded project has now ended and the ISRF have published an overview of the project, its outputs and outcomes. As planned, we will also be discussing what we have learned from this research and thinking about how it can be applied to the Social Science Centre at our AGM on Saturday 7th May.

You will see from the ISRF website that our work continues on the theory and practice of co-operative higher education. Mike and Joss have recently been funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to focus specifically on co-operative leadership and governance for higher education. We encourage anyone who is interested in this work to contact us or subscribe to the discussion list and join 90+ other researchers, students, co-operators, and activists. Please do introduce yourself!

Co-operative higher education conference paper and poster

SSC Scholars, Mike Neary and Joss Winn recently presented a conference paper and poster at the Co-operative Education conference in Manchester. These have been produced as part of our research project that aims to develop ‘a model for co-operative higher education.’

The paper and poster will also be presented at the International Co-operative Alliance’s research conference in May, and the Universities in the Knowledge Economy conference in June.

Download the paper (PDF). Comment on the paper (Google Docs)

We’d really appreciate comments on the framework we have developed in the paper and is illustrated below.

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education (click to enlarge)

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education. Design by Sam Randall, student at University of Lincoln.

Notes from the ‘Transnational Solidarity’ workshop for co-operative higher education

Summary of ‘solidarity’ workshop held at Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, on January 29th, 10-4pm.

This final workshop of the project was concerned with ‘co-operation among co-operatives’ and other international organisations providing higher education.  We sought to identify the features of a transnational network for co-operative higher education as well as acknowledge existing models and organisations to learn from. Not only were the well-established organisations such as the ICA, CICOPA and UNESCO mentioned, but also the various student co-operative groups in the UK, USA and elsewhere, the national co-operative colleges that already undertake research and coordinate educational activities within the movement, like-minded institutions such as Antioch College, the WEA, Northern College, and other worker education initiatives, the Trade Unions, and national and international campaigns within higher education such as #RhodesMustFall. This activity highlighted how participants understood the role and purpose of co-operative higher education as connecting to and serving a broader concern with social, political, economic and ecological issues. It emphasised both the breadth of existing organisations and campaigns that share similar values and principles with the co-operative movement, as well as the need for the co-operative movement to address a long-standing need for higher education provided by and for its members.

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Workshop – Transnational Solidarity for Co-operative Higher Education

Beyond Public and Private: A model for co-operative higher education.

Funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF).

Workshop: Transnational Solidarity for Co-operative Higher Education

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, LN2 5AX.

Date: Friday 29th January 2015, 10am – 4pm

This workshop will focus on co-operation among co-operatives and other organisations providing higher education. Broadly, we aim to:

  • Identify forms of existing organisations and networks which would be supportive of co-operative higher education and possible sites for the creation of a transnational network for co-operation.
  • Establish an outline for a transnational co-operative higher education network.
  • Identify the features of a transnational organisation for co-operative higher education both in the national and international contexts.

A summary of what was achieved in previous workshops (pedagogy, governance, legal frameworks and business models) will be presented to you at the start of the day. We have suggested a structure for the solidarity workshop, together with a number of key themes to be addressed and some recommended reading material.

An important principle of the work we are doing together is that it should involve collaboration and co-operation at all stages, so we are very keen for your suggestions as to how the workshop should be organised as well as important matters you feel need to be discussed, together with suggestions for further reading. We are aware of the crucial importance of cultural difference and the need to learn from a variety of local and national approaches in the global north and south.


Key suggested themes to be addressed at this workshop include:

  1. Key international organisations within the co-operative movement (e.g. ICA, CICOPA) and supporting organisations (e.g. ILO, UN, UNESCO)
  2. Existing models of transnational and international organisations for higher education (e.g. European Graduate School, UN University)
  3. Challenges to transnational solidarity (e.g. language and cultural differences, colonial legacy, stages of capitalist development)
  4. Models of transnational solidarity (e.g. NGOs, IGOs, ‘social movements’)
  5. Features of transnational organisations for co-operative higher education.


Some reading is suggested to inform your thinking about these issues before coming to the workshop:

Brown, Leslie and Winstanley, Viola (2008) Co-operatives, Community, and Identity in a Globalizing World pp.151-178.

Callahan, M. (n.d.) Zapatismo Beyond Chiapas 

UNESCO Education Strategy 2014-2021

ICA Blueprint 2013 (Chapter 1: Participation)


We are proposing a ‘roundtable’ format, but welcome suggestions on the day for how we might organise our time together.

10.00 – 10.15 Coffee

10.15 – 10.30 Aims for the day

10.30 – 11.00 Presentation – Summary of previous workshop outcomes.

11.00 – 12.30 Roundtable discussion:

12.30 – 13.00 Lunch

13.00 – 14.15 Roundtable discussion:

14.15 – 14.30 Break

14.30 – 15.45

15.45 – 16.00 Wrap up and action planning

Online Focus Group

We are organising an online focus group for those of you who cannot attend the workshop. This will be on February 11th 19.00 – 20.30 GMT. More details will follow on how to join the online focus group. Please let us know ( if you wish to join it instead of this workshop.

Notes from the ‘Business Models’ workshop for Co-operative Higher Education

Business Models for Co-operative Higher Education

Venue – Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln

20th November, 2015, 10 am – 4 pm

It was great to see colleagues and friends from around the world, bringing knowledge and experiences about co-operatives and higher education and related matters to the discussions.

The workshop had been arranged as part of the ISRF research project to establish a framework for a co-operative model of higher education. The aims of the day were to develop a business model that can enable and support the development of co-operative higher education.

As well as the publicity being put out by those involved with the ISRF project the event was getting extra publicity from being part of a national Anti-University event: a collaborative  festival to revisit and reimagine the Anti-university of 1968, in a weekend of events inspired by the spirit, people and activities of the Anti-university of East London. The festival challenges academic hierarchy through an open invitation to teach and learn any subject, in any form, anywhere. The Anti-university was a movement in the late 1960s based in Shoreditch, East London. It included iconic figures such as C.L.R James, John Latham, Juliet Mitchell, R.D. Laing and Stuart Hall, who wanted to break the structures forced by institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals. The Anti-university wanted to allow people to meet each other without having to act out socially prescribed roles, believing that this would expose the terrible reality of modern life, in which nobody really knew anyone, and spark a revolution.

All those present at the ISRF workshop, share the spirit of Anti-University realising that what we are doing is part of a much wider international movement that is looking to deconstruct and reinvent and transcend the capitalist university.


Key suggested themes to be addressed at this workshop included:

  • What services and/or products will the co-operative university provide?
  • Who are the co-operative’s members and what co-operative model are we proposing?
  • What is the financial framework, including start-up costs, overheads, projected income streams, distribution of profits?
  • Getting started – registering the co-operative, being an employer and general responsibilities?

There was a short report at the beginning of the day  on the main issues that were emerging from the previous workshops on Pedagogy, Governance and Legal issues relating to the establishment of a framework for co-operative higher learning. This framework is being considered within the concept of distinctively different possible institutional forms of co-operative higher education that have emerged from the research and been consolidated in previous workshops: conversion, creation and dissolution.  Reference was made to another form of cooperative model for higher education, not previously mentioned, evergreen co-operatives: as a network of semi-autonomous worker cooperatives supported by local ‘anchor’ institutions that could include universities.

The focus for the day was maintained by thinking about each of the themes in terms of what we would need to do if we if we were starting up a higher educational cooperative in the near future.

There was a brief presentation at the beginning setting out in general terms some of the issues that need to be considered when developing a business plan for co-operative higher education. These included power and power relations, the nature of the cooperative’s politics and how radical we wanted to be, specific roles that would need to be adopted, funding models for financial support, the different membership(s) models, e.g.  consumer and worker co-operatives, stakeholder and solidarity co-operatives, so as to make the link between individual needs and capacities and the general interest of the collective co-operative group as a whole; and, as ever, the important question of language and concepts that are used to best express the nature of our political standpoints. One important concept that emerged in the presentation and throughout the day was the idea of ‘social value’ as opposed to economic value, and how that might be generated and maintained and expanded and amplified.


There were no firm conclusions about what the definitive output or product of this co-operative version of higher education would be, but it would involve:

Being part of a radical democratic social experiment which enables members to be debt free, and that it should be for the production of social value in the form of knowledge and science. Membership does not have to be time limited to 3 or 4 years, as in mainstream university programmes. An expectation of this co-operative is that all members, including students, would get ‘paid’.

We struggled with the word ‘product’, suggesting as alternatives: ‘interactions’ or ‘experience’ or ‘curriculum’ or ‘pleasure’ as part of a ‘sensual’ and ‘intellectual life’ in a way that amplifies the intellectual and human/physical capabilities of each individual member and the collective group.

We heard about plans being developed by academics and students in Greece that share these ideas, and which come very close to the Student as Producer model that formed the starting point for the Pedagogy workshop.

Members of the co-operative must have freedom to learn, freedom to create/critique – to create a way of living –  or make a living: a livelihood, a concept that was preferred to business plan. Other concepts felt to support this philosophy were  ‘surviving well’, ‘etre pour soi’ and ‘Ubuntu’

The curriculum would be theoretical and practical. For example, designing a dry toilet should involve muscle and science: manual and mental labour, in a way that amplifies the contribution of others. Practical work (e.g. cleaning) can be a starting point for teaching and learning – especially when related to green and eco-political issues, but also social class, gender and other considerations relating to in/equalities. Part of the curriculum would be to support  people to start their own cooperatives. It was felt that the curriculum would need to overcome any sense of community deficit, by being sure to ground the curriculum in the needs of the community in which it is embedded.


There was a consensus that the membership must be able to incorporate various needs and capacities (stakeholders and interests groups; users and consumers) while maintaining a sense of common purpose and solidarity. The co-operative does not need to be locally based and could making use of digital  technologies, e.g., to operate as a platform co-operative, taking advantage of already existing cooperative protocols, e.g., Somerset Rules .

We learned about how these membership models could be supported by ideas emerging out of the spirit of  ‘new co-operativism’ and about a recent event at the New School in New York, with very interesting models for workers to make a living while maintaining some control of their own labour processes through the use of digital technologies: platform co-operativism.

It was felt that people most likely to be members of this new co-operative for higher education would be adult and mature, the group most disadvantaged by the current funding regimes in England, who want not only to gain a qualification, but part of a meaningful social experiment.

There was much support for the idea that the cooperative for higher learning would need to connect to a wider membership of co-operatives, e.g., housing coops and across other social movements around the world.


Financial model

There was a recognition of the need for different types of funding: seed funding and continuing funding.


Based on a co-operative university outlet with 10 FTE staff supporting approximately 100 students, salary costs were estimated at about £300k per annum, most of which to be paid as wages for part time work in the first instance.

Other major costs include premises and IT. It was felt we could look for a premises from the local cooperative association or philanthropic donor(s). IT can be got for free from open online resources, although not completely free of charge and the hardware would cost. We did not estimate this but it was agreed it would be more expensive than we might at first imagine.


The co-operative might be financed by a Members’  levy from co-operative enterprises  to support education (Principle 5) as a contribution from the global co-operative movement; or by operating a scheme of Community Shares, or FairShares or investing through a Loanstock share offer. Another way of generating income could be by individual subscriptions: 5000 people giving £10 per month would give us £600,000 per year, or by setting up a Solidarity Fund. We discussed the possibility of approaching the Co-operative Bank as well as other philanthropic donors and Educational Trusts. It might even be possible to ask Co-operative Societies for a cut of monies earned from the sale of plastic shopping bags, now 5p each, which has already been committed in general terms to ‘worthy causes’.

Labour scheme

The  co-operative might find another form of social wealth not based on money but on labour, as a form of labour bank, that could generate its own currency. Or, in the form of  barter/gift economy. Or through a scheme of co-operative work experience making links with local co-operative schools. It might also be that courses are donated by scholars for free.

It was felt that these ideas to generate social wealth and work less are part of a much larger political project around the themes of Basic Income and the Reduction of Working  Hours that the new co-operative university should be plugged into.

Other ideas for Generating income:

We considered other money making schemes linked back the the idea of what is the nature of our product. It could include:

  • Publishing
  • Consultancy
  • Research contracts
  • Residential courses – cooking, living and eating together, overcoming  ’community deficit’, doing foundation programmes and having ‘edventures’

All of which could generate monies for the co-operative university.

Remembering, at all times, that the way to make a living, or make a life, is not by making money but by abolishing money and work so as to create a new form of social wealth, or social value. Some felt these ideas might be too utopian, while others felt a utopia frame of mind is what is required in the current crisis.


Josef Davies-Coates

Gerard de Zeeuw

Cassie Earl

Spyros Marchetos

Mike Neary

Chris Newfield

Angela Porter

Glenn Rikowski

Rory Ridley Duff

Marisol Sandoval

Kenneth Umeh

Marta Vahl

Wendy Vause

Notes from the ‘Legal’ workshop for Co-operative Higher Education

Beyond Private and Public: a model for co-operative higher education [ISRF]

Croft Street Community Centre, 9th October 2015, 10-4pm

Cassie Earl, Joss Winn, Rory Ridley-Duff, Ian Snaith, Martha Vahl, Gerard de Zeeuw, Kai Haidemann, Mike Neary, Tara Mulqueen, Pablo Perez Ruiz,

This roundtable discussion began with an overview about the frame of reference for the research project, with a review of the two workshops that have already taken place, on pedagogy and governance, setting the topic for this workshop on legal arrangements for co-operative higher education into context. We agreed to consider the three possible forms of co-operative higher education already established as an organising model for co-operative forms of higher education: conversion, dissolution and creation (Winn, 2015)

There was a strong sense that higher education needs to be embedded within the co-operative movement as one of its core values, not only to support commercial activities but as foundational aspect of co-operatives as a social movement and a significant matter for a ‘new co-operativism’.

This sparked a discussion about whether we use the title of ‘university’ or ‘higher education’ for our new institution and, in what was to become a main theme for the day, to what extent we work inside or outside HEFCE frameworks. We heard about the Architectural Association School of Architecture, which validates its undergraduate programmes through RIBA and post-graduate programmes through the Open University. It is able to flourish as a higher education institution due its very credible reputation and the quality of the students it produces. We also heard about alternative forms of co-operative education in Argentina that had emerged after the economic crisis in the 1990s and in opposition to the increasing marketisation and privatisation of schools.

Working from recently published HEFCE documents we looked at the requirements to become a HEFCE approved university. This route to becoming a ‘university’ requires a threshold level of higher education students, currently fixed at 1000, and already attained degree awarding powers. An attraction of the HEFCE framework is the funding that is associated with the student numbers.

We thought about credible organisations deeply embedded within the co-operative movement, the co-operative College and the International co-operative Alliance, which might become primary coordinating institutions based on the HEFCE model of ensuring quality assurance and good governance, organised around a confederated secondary network of co-operative higher education centres/universities.

We agreed that there was no legal reason why a co-operative university could not be established under the HEFCE regulations, via the established gateways. A legal framework could be created that would meet HEFCE stipulations concerning quality, financial sustainability and governance. There was a concern about the amount of time it takes to be recognised as an HE provider by HEFCE, currently at least four years, and the politics of dealing with HEFCE, not least because of its currently neoliberal agenda and the regulatory audit culture that it creates. It was mentioned that all of the organisations associated with the governance of HE in the UK are currently under review by the Conservative Government, including the Funding Councils and the QAA, and may not exist in their current form in the near future.

There was a greater interest in developing an alternative form of co-operative higher education that was not dependent on HEFCE validation and funding. We learned that there are validating bodies, other than HEFCE, through which courses and programmes of study could be validated. These alternative awards remain government regulated and we were interested in looking at the full range of possible awards, including diplomas and certificates.

This alternative model should aim to keep all legal arrangements to the minimum of what is required to fulfill certain legal obligations. The co-operative could be un-incorporated and set up contractual agreements to deal with specific issues, for example, the employment of workers through self-employment schemes, or owning property through the creation of trusts, or dealing with other types of liability through insurance schemes. What was made clear is that in the UK, a ‘co-operative’ can take different legal forms and therefore flexibly accommodate the aspirations of its founding members.

There was a very strong feeling that the co-operative should not create precarious forms of employment, but pay workers a wage that is commensurable with other academic labour, including professional and support staff, and for workers in the education co-operative to have access to full employment rights. One unique aspect of this co-operative form of higher education is that students could be paid a salary, maybe on the lines of craft apprentices.

All of this raises the question about the relationship of this new form of co-operative higher education to the local and national state as the main arbiter of legal matters and source of public provision. This is a highly practical matter but should also be considered as a form of intellectual inquiry through, for example, a critique of political economy and critical legal studies.

It was suggested that we work towards a distinct research project to actually establish an autonomous form of co-operative higher education, going further than the current form of the Social Science Centre, and working through the specific issues in relation to the matters discussed at the workshop and the final recommendations of our current research project.