Cooperative Party weighs-in on the Higher Education and Research Bill

The Co-operative Party (which is funded by the co-operative movement and affiliated to the Labour Party) has made a public statement about the HE and Research Bill.

In the article, the opportunity created by the forthcoming Higher Education and Research Bill is to move beyond a narrow consumerist vision for the university, and towards a pluralist, internationalist and radically independent cooperative form of the university. It envisages a university based in notions of the commons, rather than on a statist ‘publicly-owned’ university.

Co-operation has always sought to reconcile good ethics and good business. This new legislation provides advantageous financial and regulatory conditions in which to establish a substantial cooperative presence in the HE sector, whether through conversion of existing institutions to a cooperative form, or through the founding of a large or small new institution.

While new HE cooperatives in the UK have tended to opt for a low cost base, the HE and Research Bill creates the conditions for new ‘challenger’ institutions to award degrees and obtain government-backed student finance from the outset. The Bill even establishes a new cooperative form of student finance to allow for Sharia-compliant equivalents to a student loan, meaning that a university could be (technically) cooperatively financed.

The for-profit private sector has been establishing a foothold in the HE sector for some years. Now really is a good time to start planning for a future for cooperative higher education in England.

 

Social Science Centre: Manchester

The Co-operative News has covered the opening of a new cooperative higher education provider in Manchester.

As a new branch of the Social Science Centre, based on the original SSC in Lincoln, SSC Manchester has begun by tackling the biggest issue of the day, by running a course in “Understanding Brexit“.

The SSC uses the same constitution as the SSC in Lincoln, and has drawn-up a business plan. The aim is to create a self-sustaining co-operative, with a low cost base. Members contribute an hour’s pay per month.

Good luck to all involved.

NMITE – something new in HE governance

I am fortunate to have been sent a copy of the role description for the founding President and CEO of NMITE – the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering. It offers a lot more detail about the proposed governance structures at this new university foundation in Hereford. It is not a co-operative, but neither does it conform to the traditional forms of governance associated with other universities in the UK. It is something new in patterns of higher education governance.

Staff contracts and rewards

There appears to be some considerable ambition to be different in the way staff are contracted to work at NMITE. Claiming to have learned from Olin College in the US (one of the partner/mentor organizations) and having tested the idea among prospective staff, the following is proposed:

Our institutional reward system will be based in concept on the John Lewis Partnership model (a retired senior John Lewis director is working with us) – a model that has so successfully been used at John Lewis and elsewhere to focus the culture and actions of employees on delivering consistently high quality service. NMITE will measure employee and operating success on the quality of  teaching and the employment success of graduates.  The performance system will be specifically designed to reward high quality teachers with further resources to support their teaching and broaden the impact of the educational experience they are providing students.  We believe this will result in the acquisition of inspirational tutors and other academic staff.

And

There will be no tenure, all employees will be retained under standard commercial contracts of employment

This sounds like a teaching-focussed contracting system, just as John Lewis’ contracting system aims to employ staff talented at customer service. However, just because it is a bit like John Lewis, there is not necessarily anything co-operative about it. Indeed, John Lewis is not a co-operative, but is owned by a beneficial trust for employees. Of course, John Lewis is a profit-making firm, but the NMITE is intended to be a not-for profit, so while the contracting may be similar, governance is not: but some reworking of the John Lewis model was inevitable to fit NMITE’s charitable purpose and charitable form.

Corporate form and internal decision-making

Rebecca Boden, Penelope Ciancanelli and Susan Wright (2012) have put forward the concept of a Trust University as a possible co-operative structure for universities. In the Boden et al model, the institution would be owned by an irrevocable beneficial Trust. NMITE’s proposal is something entirely novel, as far as I am aware. The proposal is for a top-level charitable trust with responsibility for fundraising and ethos. A second charitable trust, a subsidiary of the first, will be the responsible entity for policy, operations, quality and motivation. The President/CEO will serve on both, but it is not clear where responsibility for audit, ultimate accountability, etc, will lie. There will be an elected Employee Council with what appears to be an independent Chair (at least, it is a separate role to that of the President/CEO) with a seat on the (subsidiary) Trust Board, and a formal advisory role to the President/CEO. This appears to be more like classic German-style employee relations than a co-operative to me, but who knows what such a body could achieve in a university? There is a lot to like about this proposal that makes your average pre-92 Senate look rather wimpy by comparison, but at the same time, it is plain that the employee council is subordinate to the executive and Board, which is more like the set-up in a post-92 Higher Education Corporation or a private institution. The latitude available to the Employee Council would depend on whether the Chair of that body turns out to be the Provost (head of academics) role, or someone independent.

I can’t see any details of student representation, and if there is none, then that would be a retrograde step (if technically legitimate, as the Committee of University Chairs’ code makes clear in its paragraph 7.6) but perhaps this will be rectified in due course. There will also be an Advisory Council, similar to Court in a pre-92 English university, but smaller, to represent the interests of the wider community.

NMITE governance

Well-known co-operative consultancy Baxendale are listed among the consultants supporting the project, which accounts for the statements regarding the John Lewis group.

There are no other obvious manifestations of cooperativism, but there is plenty for cooperators to like in the curriculum, with a focus on developing the whole individual, and to inculcate a care for society and the environment in their professional practice. There is also clear potential for this new organization to experiment with cooperative governance in a higher education setting, if that is the choice of the future President/CEO. Co-operative-minded engineers might be advised to investigate this job further…

References

Boden, R., Ciancanelli, P., & Wright, S. (2012). Trust Universities? Governance for Post-Capitalist Futures. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 45(2), 16–24.
Committee of University Chairs. (2014, December). The Higher Education Code of Governance. Committee of University Chairs. Retrieved from http://www.universitychairs.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Code-Final.pdf

NMITE – planning to do things differently

Will NMITE be a co-operative? I can’t say, but it certainly plans to do things differently:

No departments, no faculties, no Council.  Instead, we’ll be developing teaching teams designed around the delivery of our unique engineering and Human Interaction© curriculum

(http://nmite.org.uk/faculty-staff/)

The curriculum comprises a great deal of interaction with industry, with an extended placement, and furthermore, promises to school students in a wide range of awareness, communication and collaborative working skills – it looks a lot like US-style co-operative education, but no explicit mention of co-operative principles/values, and the collaborative learning aspects are not foregrounded.

(http://nmite.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Curriculum-Summary-WO.pdf)

In terms of physical infrastructure, there is an extensive apparent desire to care for the community’s needs, by developing enviromentally-freindly “accommodation that reflects how NMITE intends to inspire, collaborate and connect with the community.” And, as co-operatives are known to have superior longevity and a tendency towards longer-term planning, NMITE likewise intends to be:

“putting decision making and development for the long term always before short term wins.”

(http://nmite.org.uk/campus/)

Co-operative or not, NMITE promises to be a positive educational development for an area that is currently underserved by Higher Education, and something new in UK Higher Education.

Hereford University – new model co-operative university?

An article appeared in the Times Higher Education this week, about proposals for a new university in Hereford. George Osborne has been tweeting about it and the University of Bristol is apparently involved in the project, as is Sir John Hood. From a co-operative university-watcher’s viewpoint, the most exciting part of the announcement was that the university “is being conceived as a not-for-profit institution, with mixed funding, and operating with input from The John Lewis Partnership model” (Morgan, 2015).

Could we be witnessing the birth of the first mutual Higher Education Institution in England? Possibly. While the John Lewis Partnership model stretches the definition of an employee-owned firm somewhat (being a non-revocable trust for the benefit of staff) if you do consider it to be a version of the co-operative business model (I do) then it is one of the UK’s most prominent examples. Boden, Ciancanelli and Wright (2012) explicitly consider that the John Lewis model ‘offers promise for university reform’ (Boden et al, 2012, p.20). ‘Drawing on this model …’ Boden et al. (2012, p. 21) ‘… propose reform of university ownership via the creation of Trust Universities’. While I have doubts about any mutual model of the university that does not explicitly consider students as members, there is no doubting the attractiveness of Trust Universities as a reassertion of academic governance of academic institutions. The involvement of the John Lewis Partnership makes this prospect a tantalizing possibility.

There are not many details available about the putative university, which styles itself the ‘new model institute for technology and engineering. Its website remains enigmatically silent, but the countdown at the bottom of the page indicates all will be revealed in two weeks time…

Logo from the new Hereford University website - codenamed NMITE
Watch this space for the new Hereford University – codenamed NMITE

References:

Boden, R., Ciancanelli, P., & Wright, S. (2012). Trust Universities? Governance for Post-Capitalist Futures. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 45(2), 16–24.
Morgan, J. (2015, February 14). Former Oxford v-c “senior adviser” to new Hereford university. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/former-oxford-v-c-senior-adviser-to-new-hereford-university/2018542.article
NMITE. (2015, February 18). New Model Institute. Retrieved February 17, 2015, from http://www.nmite.org.uk/
Osborne, G. (2015, February 10). On #education will support development of major new uni in Hereford. Asked Greg Clark to examine how to do this, working with @BristolUni [microblog]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/George_Osborne/status/565815416724131840