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.

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.

Workshop – Business Models 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: Business Models for Co-operative Higher Education

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

Date: Friday 20th November 2015, 10am – 4pm

This workshop will focus on the business model that can enable and support the development of co-operative higher education. If you would like to attend, please contact Joss Winn.

Two scenarios will guide the day:

  • The creation of a new co-operative ‘higher education provider’
  • The conversion of an existing university into a co-operatively owned and democratically governed institution that maintains its university title.

A summary of what was achieved in previous workshops (pedagogy, governance and legal frameworks) will be presented to you at the start of the day. We have suggested a structure for the business 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.


Key suggested themes to be addressed at this workshop include:

  • Who are the co-operative’s members and what co-operative model are we proposing?
  • What services and/or products will the co-operative university provide?
  • 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?


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

Cook, Dan (2013) Realising the Co-operative University (pp. 48-50)

Mondragon Corporation – Annual Report (2014)

Co-operatives UK – Start a Co-op

Radical Roots (2012) How to Set Up a Workers Co-operative



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: Products and Services

12.30 – 13.00 Lunch

13.00 – 14.15 Roundtable discussion: Membership and Model

14.15 – 14.30 Break

14.30 – 15.45 Financial Framework

15.45 – 16.00 Wrap up and action planning: Getting Started


Online Focus Group

We are organising an online focus group for those of you who cannot attend the workshop. This will be on December 3rd 19.00 – 21.00 BST. 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 Co-operative Higher Education Governance Workshop

Date: 17th July, Lincoln, 10-4pm.

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, UK

This was the second of five workshops being run for our research project on co-operative higher education. The workshops are being held at Croft Street Community Centre, a place that the Social Science Centre uses regularly for its meetings and seminars. There were nineteen participants (nine members of the Social Science Centre), including seven women and twelve men. Three people had been specifically invited for their expertise in co-operative governance. Participants also included academics (sociology, education, policy, business and management), a co-operative legal specialist, an ex-university administrator, a local educational consultant, a long-time member of a worker co-operative, a schoolteacher, someone from the Leadership Foundation, a student, and community educators.

A draft report from the previous workshop on ‘pedagogy’ was handed out to everyone and discussed. We emphasized that our project is intended to develop a model, rather than the model, for co-operative higher education. We recognized that there are different routes that have been proposed: conversion of an existing university, dissolution by establishing co-operative structures, strategies, services, etc., and the creation of a new form of co-operative higher education.

Among participants with experience in the co-operative movement, there was a strong sense that a ‘co-operative’ refers to an organization that identifies with the International Co-operative Alliance’s statement of identity, values and principles. We discussed these so as to make them clear to everyone and establish a shared understanding of what we mean by a ‘co-operative’:

“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

Drawing from what we learned at the previous workshop on pedagogy, we noted that the theory and practice of ‘Cooperative Learning’ does not explicitly identify with the international co-operative movement. The co-operative movement is a social, historical and political movement that, beyond the identity statement, is not prescriptive. For some it is simply a better way of doing business and not necessarily about changing society; for others it is a radical social movement. When developing ‘a model for co-operative higher education’, we need to be clear about what ‘co-operative’ means to us. For those at the workshop, there was general agreement that we do wish to draw on the radical, social and political history of the co-operative movement.

We agreed to focus on five themes for the day:

  1. The relationship between pedagogy and governance
  2. Membership
  3. Size and scale
  4. Methods of governance
  5. Existing governance in HE

The group split into four tables and discussed each of these themes for the rest of the day, having lunch between (2) and (3). After lunch, new groups formed.

We questioned what we mean by ‘governance’ and noted that it involves relationships of power and is politically situated. We discussed governance as:

  1. The mechanisms through which an organisation is accountable to its stakeholders/members.
  2. Systems and processes ensuring overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation.
  3. Broader politics and social processes that define and organise – relational – addressing issues of power.

Related to this, we questioned the difference between ‘stakeholders’ and ‘members’ and noted how we need to use language carefully and consciously to avoid reproducing the neo-liberal status quo.

As the day progressed, we reported back from each table to the whole group. People at each table focused on different ‘routes’ to a co-operative university: some discussing issues of governance when converting an existing university; others thinking about governance and membership of a newly created co-operative university. It wasn’t until the end of the day that we made the distinction between co-operative higher education and a co-operative university – a university being one institutional form of higher education.

Reading notes taken by Andrea, who has offered to be our project’s ‘ethnographer’, I have highlighted the following representative points made by different participants:

Who are the members?

Everyone should be multi-skilled not a division between manual and intellectual work and roles.

Students should be paid like other workers.

Who is in the community of interest? Who will continue to come to the university because they need it?

People would not be coming to be educated but to be part of the running of the organisation.

Cooperation is knocked out of us, we have to learn how to govern co-operatively.

It’s the idea of an organisation where members are jointly producing knowledge.

People have to have commitment.

You have to work to become a member.  

There are different stakeholders – internal and external.

How the decisions are made is as important as who is voting.

Teaching the social and political economy is social and political. Teaching the capitalist relationships and how they affect teaching and learning.

Talked about a horizontal structure. Whoever is in the decision-making positions should be rotated very regularly.

The process of governance is a process of learning and governance.

Would probably want consensus decision-making. It would be small and networked. It wouldn’t comply with HEFCE codes.

What is learned in the classroom should inform the governance. The people who are teaching and learning are deciding what is taught and learned.

Employability – there might be an alternative agenda that enables students to create their own cooperatives. The Co-op university would give people the confidence and skills to go on and create their own co-ops.

Students and their associations should not just be a sounding board but should have constitutional recognition. People may be transient but it is about the associations they represent which are permanent.

Could be both individual and institutional membership.

Distinction between members and ‘stakeholders’ who may have an interest but not constitutionally members.

Wage labour changes the way an organisation is governed. Could categorise core (those who learn or work in the cooperative) but also there may be other forms of stakeholders and representation.

There is always an issue of scaling up. There is a size of community that people can identify with.  

Rather than define by size, it could be defined by place. In a town the size of Lincoln the identity can be distinctive.

There may be a ‘hub’ that connects to the various coops: cleaning coop, catering coop, academic coop, etc. Separate identities joined to the hub.

Specialists can do things like cleaning which should not be an identity.

Can we have smallness on a big scale? Can we have a scaling up of ‘cells’ that multiply?

The learning environment of smallness is more suited to educational purposes and especially cooperative educational approach where you learn from doing and need to build up relationships.

Space and the type of space is critical.

Once the people are cooperative learners then you can have big groups.

The principle of ‘subsidiarity’. Only do at the centre things that have to be done at the centre. Radical devolution is when all power is at the bottom unless the bottom gives power to the centre.

Alumni as custodians of the vision as well as retired staff.

‘Graduated to’ rather than ‘graduated from’ the co-op university. Membership is not immediate upon ‘enrolment’ – a probationary period.

Equalise subsidiary groups. Equalise and get away from low and high function groups – such as cleaners and academics

Grow small organisations who in the course of growing would link up with other similar organisations.

Some kind of federation. Generating – synthesising – coordinating and accrediting.

Incorporation might be problematic but also could be helpful. There could be advantages to one in the middle being incorporated but the rest only legal and cultural framework but the others do what they want. Small enough for direct democracy to work at the level of the individual educational grouping.

We are learning how to govern and this is a process of empowerment.

If you do not have executive management and keep operational management you will save a lot of money on cost and administration of cost.

The cooperative movement is concerned with housing. Housing cooperative could be a way to raise funds.

With the potential failure of existing universities, what can this project contribute to a potential worker takeover? There is no legal impediment to a worker takeover.

Everybody at the workshop ended up focusing on the small-scale creation route.

General state of the radical imagination: inability to think at scale. Why is this? Where have the institution-building skills gone? Big institutions are so easy to capture. Almost any reasonable person can run a group of people of 50 so it is enabling and democracy can survive.

It’s important to link to the unions.


As you can see, the governance workshop ended up focusing primarily on the creation route, allowing participants to imagine co-operative higher education in an ideal democratic form. However, the question of converting an existing institution was not lost as we recognized the need to respond to the possibility of a worker takeover of a failing institution, as has often happened in other industries past and present in the UK and elsewhere.  The two scenarios of 1) small, federated social co-operatives for higher education; and 2) action planning for worker takeover of an existing (possibly failing) institution, provided us with something concrete to take to the next workshop in October, where we focus on the legal frameworks for co-operative higher education: What legal structures currently exist in the UK (and elsewhere) that might enable and/or prohibit 1) the creation of a federated network of social co-operatives for higher education, and 2) a worker takeover of an existing university?


Andrea Abbas (SSC and University of Bath)

Sarah Amsler (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Edwin Bacon (Birkbeck Collegee, University of London)

Bob Cannell (Suma whole foods co-operative)

Gerard de Zeeuw (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Elio Di Muccio (City University of Birmingham)

Cassie Earl (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Judy Harris (Leadership Foundation for Higher Education)

Stephen Hopkins (SSC and Independent Consultant in Education)

Pat Juby (Secretary of the UK Society for Co-operative Studies)

Joel Lazarus (University of Warwick)

Mike Neary (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Rory Ridley-Duff (Sheffield Hallam University)

Peter Somerville (University of Lincoln)

Ian Snaith (Independent Consultant in Co-operative Law)

Martha Vahl (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Wendy Vause (SSC)

Mervyn Wilson (Co-operative College)

Joss Winn (SSC and University of Lincoln)

Notes from the Co-operative Higher Education Pedagogy Workshop

Date: 19th June, 2015, 10-4pm

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, UK

Wheel of cooperation

Wheel of Cooperation

This workshop sought to explore  a pedagogy for cooperative higher education, starting from the practices and principles of Student as Producer, the foundational pedagogy for the Social Science Centre, Lincoln. Student as Producer is based on the notion that students are co-workers with academics and other university staff, contributing to the development of knowledge and science. At the core of Student as Producer lies the intention to overcome the social relations of capitalist production so that humanity-in-nature is the project rather than the resource for a post-capitalist society. The pedagogy that emerges from the workshop and from further discussions and research will provide the structuring principle of a framework for cooperative higher learning.

The workshop was interactive, involving high levels of collaboration and cooperation. The participants said how much they enjoyed the event, especially the format of the activities and the space, the hall of Croft Street Community Centre.

The main themes for the workshop were:

  • Content and subject matter of curriculum: cooperative studies or discipline focussed, or interdisciplinary based on themes, for example, current global and local emergencies
  • Assessment and evaluation, perhaps taking peer review of academic and student practice as the model
  • The learning environment and ecology: how to make a sustaining intellectual space for cooperative learning
  • Technologies for teaching: using web-based technologies in ways that avoid machinic and automated learning
  • Programme for first year of teaching and research, with plans for development through subsequent levels of higher education
  • The process of learning cooperatively: enabling students and teachers to learn how to cooperate in ways that sustain a cooperative educational institution

Nature and Scope

The workshop crystallised our understanding about the real nature and scope of the cooperative university that is being modelled:

The aim is to establish a cooperative form of higher learning conscious of its connection to and engagement with the historical and logical development of the cooperative movement.

The institutional form of the cooperative will substantiate the political, moral and ethical values of the cooperative movement, set within an educational context.

The pedagogy will be grounded in the practices and principles of cooperative learning, recognising that much can be learned about how to be a cooperator-student/teacher (i.e. ‘scholar’), while at the same time acknowledging that cooperative practices are already endemic in radical social interactions.

Areas for further development

No concrete plans for the curriculum were decided, however a number of areas were identified for further development:

The relationship between students and academics as well as other members of the cooperative is the central issue. These relationships will be complex and fluid depending on the nature of activities, but should be grounded within a constitutional framework that confronts issues of power, difference and desire, as well as (in)equalities, while at the same time recognising the importance of deliberative leadership.

The curriculum should be open and enquiring, based on outcomes that are not predetermined. At the same time there should be a sense of progress and structure. This structure might be validated by an accreditations programme that could be established.

Cooperative learning develops in a context within which the relationship between the individual, ‘I’ , and the collective ‘We’, is brought into sharp relief: as the social individual, or radical individuality.

The curriculum should be embedded in the real lives of the members as well as the communities within which the cooperative is situated. This community extends to the community of cooperatives engaged in related social and public issues: housing, health, employment etc.

The content of the curriculum should reflect the nature of cooperative society: critical political economy, the history of the workers movement, working class intellectuality and philosophy, gender studies (cooperative women), making links between the natural and the social sciences and  not merely as versions of  interdisciplinarity but as ‘troublesome’, ‘useful’ and ‘critical-practical’ knowledges.

The cooperative would need to establish its own resources (‘Library’)  to support teaching and research, making use of already available materials on-line and elsewhere. Care should be taken not to duplicate what is being provided elsewhere for similar purposes and for the cooperative model to find its own way of making a distinctive contribution to what could be shared and offered to others.

The technology should be open source making use of the legal frameworks that have been established to support mutualism and other collaborative ways of working. Examples of these can be found in the free software and free culture movement, creative commons regimes and commons based peer production, as well as the newly emerging open cooperatives.

The cooperative for higher learning to be part of a network of progressive, alternative higher learning provision, including Mondragon, Unitierra, and cooperative universities in Mexico and Colombia and elsewhere, yet to be discovered; and to make links with the ‘enlivened learning’ project.

Wheel of Cooperation

There was a recognition that all of these aspects are closely interlinked with other parts of the model for cooperative learning that is being developed, including governance, legality, the business plan and the transnational network. There should  be a recognition of the close connections needed to ensure the day to day running of the cooperative, so that roles need to be shared and supported within a culture of equivalence, respect and trust.


Andrea Abbas (University of Bath)

Maureen Breeze (International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education)

Keith Crome (Manchester Metropolitan University

Dunya Dunda (University of Brighton)

Nathan Fretwell (London Metropolitan University)

Luke Gregory-Jones (Goldsmiths College, London)

Mike Neary (Social Science Centre and University of Lincoln

Patrick O’Connor (Nottingham Trent University)

Spyros Themelis (University of East Anglia)

Joss Winn (Social Science Centre and University of Lincoln)

Tom Woodin (Institute of Education, UCL)

AGM 2015 Minutes, financial report, draft statement of values

Download key documents:

AGM minutes

Financial report (AGM)

Financial report (May 2015)

SSC and ISRF Project Plan

Draft statement of values

Social Science Centre, Lincoln

4th Annual General Meeting, 16th May 2015.

Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln. 11-4pm.


Paul Boyce, Lucy McGinty


Andrew McCulloch

Angela Porter

Bob Cannell

David McAleavey

Gerard de Zeeuw

Joss Winn (Note-taker)

Laura Stratford

Martha Vahl

Mike Neary

Peaceful Warrior

Sam Kelly

Sandie Stratford

Sarah Amsler (Chair)

Stephen Hopkins

Bradley Allsop

Andrea Abbas

Simon Legg

Stephen Hopkins

Tony Jeffs

Wendy Vause


Morning: Co-operative business (11:00am–12:30pm)

  • Opening of the day & review of previous AGM minutes/actions
  • Review of the SSC Constitution
  • SSC financial report
  • Report on courses (Know-How: Do-It-Ourselves Higher Education) and information about upcoming curriculum design workshops + activities/events
  • Any other business

Lunch (12:30–1:00pm)                                                                                    

Bring and share!

Afternoon: Talks and discussions (1:00–4:00pm)

1:00–1:15pm     Co-ops – It’s all about the people

Bob Cannell, Suma Co-op

1:45-2:00pm     Co-operatives in the East Midlands

Angela Porter, Lincolnshire Co-operative Development Agency

2:30–2:45pm    The history & archive of the Lincolnshire Co-op & the place of education

Andrew Jackson, Bishop Grosseteste University

3:15–3:30pm    Informal education and the free university

Tony Jeffs, Durham University

4:00pm                Closing


  • Agree 2014 minutes
    • SSC [ISRF] project will look at governance
    • ACTION: We will organize a half day workshop on decision-making and technologies. Sarah to bring paper on democratic decision making.
    • ACTION: Meeting on 28th May about SSC [ISRF] project – decide whether to use the project to discuss governance issues. (see subsequent project plan linked above)
    • Wendy noted that she did attend the 2014 AGM
    • 2014 minutes (2b) on ‘conflict resolution’ – the proposal relating to termination of membership was not agreed.
    • 2014 AGM minutes agreed.
  • Matters arising
  • Constitution
    • Question around what is a ‘member’? Socially, intellectually, politically? Who is the co-operative? This was also discussed last year.
    • Should statement of values be included in the constitution?
    • Should membership be open?
    • ACTION: Andrew to send statement of values around again
    • ACTION: We agreed to organise a year-long project using the constitution to develop meaningful definitions and practices of ‘democracy’, ‘non-hierarchical self-organisation’, ‘membership’, and ‘consensus’, with attention to issues of power and communication, and with a view to revising the constitution, our ‘business plan’, statement of values if necessary and producing principles of organisation, teaching and how to propose and run courses/activities (also to discuss whether the constitution should include a stronger statement of SSC values) Stephen has written an outline of this up. See attached plan. [All]
    • The series of research workshops organised by Joss and Mike to develop a framework for a co-operative university may be part of this, as the SSC is the site for it; there will be a meeting on 28 May to discuss this link.
    • ACTION: Sarah, Lucy and Andrea will work on producing principles for the new short courses and share experience and suggestions from this perspective.
    • ACTION: We agreed to use some of our money to pay for training in decision-making and other relevant skills — to be determined and organised at a meeting in the near future — these may be related to the co-operative university research workshops. [All]
    • We agreed constitution on the basis that it’s a working document for next year.
  • Financial report (attached)
    • Need to revise the business plan or dispose of it.
    • Members agreed the processes of reporting the finances.
    • Members thanked Stephen for his work on role as Treasurer.
  • Secretary: Mike Neary agreed. Treasurer: Stephen Hopkins agreed.
  • Stephen will step down in one year.
  • Agreed that elected roles (secretary and treasurer) should be for maximum fixed terms of 3 years. Changing of roles should not coincide.
  • Know-how course: Mike gave summary of the course. It struggled to find a focus of study but did look at methodology and process. In the New Year, we developed a more structured timetable of discussing our own research. Moved to Mint Lane, well attended. Didn’t write up each session as we had before.
  • Curriculum planning day for Fall 2015 will be on 26 July, 1-4pm, Mint Lane
  • ACTION: Ask for 200w from each person to publish on the website. Thanked PW for helping coordinate the use of Mint Lane building. [All]
  • ACTION: Sort out website and how we find information. [Joss]
  • ACTION: Prioritise discussion about co-ordinator role at next meeting (June 6th).


Help us develop a model for co-operative higher education

If you have seen the announcement about our project to develop a model for co-operative higher education, here’s how we hope you will participate.

We want the process to be as inclusive as possible and there are different ways of becoming directly involved:

  1. Come to one of the five workshops in Lincoln (19 June/17 July/9 Oct/20 Nov/29 Jan)
  2. Join an online focus group (two weeks after the workshop)*
  3. Allow us to interview you (between May 2015 and January 2016)
  4. Complete a survey (January 2016)

We have created a short form for you to complete to let us know how you’d like to be involved and what you can contribute. Please share the form with anyone you think will be interested. Thank you.

Link to participation form:

* The online focus groups will be as follows:

  •  Pedagogy: Thursday 2nd July (7-8pm)
  •  Governance: Thursday 23rd July (7-8pm)
  •  Legal: Thursday 22nd October (7-8pm)
  •  Business Models: Thursday 3rd December (7-8pm)
  •  Transnational: Thursday 11th February (7-8pm)
Please indicate if you wish to participate in a focus group when completing the form. They will be held via Skype or similar technology and details of how to join will be sent out in good time.