MOOCs and co-operative university futures

Some subscribers to this blog are interested in developing a Transnational Co-operative University. This putative organization could transcend existing models of the university, taking full advantage of the internet, and freeing itself from the sometimes restrictive legislative frameworks in individual states.

In their MOOC “Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’” launched yesterday on the Coursera platform, Susan Robertson and Kris Olds explore how globalization is transforming university operations, getting into the details of the different logics, models and mechanisms through which universities get entangled in the globalization project:

It is important to engage with this thinking, because a transnational co-operative university will require organizing logics, models and mechanisms of its own, and these may not be rooted in the legal frameworks we are currently familiar with in our home contexts.

When I presented at the IoE on my report into ‘Realising the Co-operative University’ I covered the necessary and sufficient definition of the conditions needed to create a formally co-operative university in England. To recap: as a minimum, to be a co-operative, the organization has to be owned by the members and adhere to the ICA Co-operative Identity Statement – so far so easy (though it does raise interesting governance questions). To be a university, the organisation has to have at least 4 years track record of delivering degree-level courses and more than 1,000 students to be able to apply for university title. There are a host of other attached requirements, but these are the big ones. Some might see these restrictions as good for preserving the quality of the organisation, while others might view it as too restrictive. If you take the latter view, then Susan and Kris’s MOOC moves the debate forward from the decline of the public university, to an examination of the new possibilities for higher education that globalization is constructing.

Co-operation is an historically and fundamentally internationalist movement, as well as being a human capacity found everywhere. This MOOC is essential study for those interested in establishing co-operative universities.


3 thoughts on “MOOCs and co-operative university futures

  1. Dan, I think you are coming around to the idea that higher education does not have to take the form of a ‘university’ as legally regulated in the UK. I agree. In my view, a ‘university’ is, and always has been, a site (virtual or physical) where scholars convene to undertake research-based teaching and learning; where peer-review regulates the quality of that education. Once we focus on ‘higher education’ rather than a local, historically specific notion of a ‘university’, it opens many avenues for co-operative higher education.

    1. I entirely agree that a higher education can be obtained outside existing institutional structures. Nevertheless, some form of institutional structure is certainly required if our ‘university’ is to be more than a peripatetic, itinerant sort of thing. The chosen structure would therefore have to fulfil the needs of the all stakeholders in ways that are seen as a good alternative to existing vehicles, or that can operate sustainably in a niche. My report looked at the idea of a co-operative university, and those words demand a significant level or organisation. I entirely agree that it is not the only option (though it is not time to abandon the idea yet) and the globalization agenda (and this MOOC) opens up some interesting arenas in which we can play with ideas about the operational, legal and financial underpinnings of the university, as well as questioning what a university is.

      For me, the ultimate goal is not to see higher education as an industry or as the preserve of particular groups, but to consider what is necessary to generalise higher education into society. What sort of organisational structure would be required to secure that? Probably not the legal framework in England! Co-operation offers potentially fruitful ways of conceiving of such an organisation. A side-effect might be a weakening of capitalist imperatives in favour of educationalist and co-operative ones. Buy hey, I heard capitalism was already dead.

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