Re-imaginging the Future of Higher Education: exploring the co-operative university

On Thursday 19th June I had the great pleasure of sharing a platform with eminent Professors Rebecca Boden and Mike Neary at an SRHE eventRe-imaginging the Future of Higher Education: exploring the co-operative university“, curated by the wise and excellent Dr Lisa Lucas and supported by the excellent Richard Budd at the University of Bristol. A lively audience of around 30 people made it an energetic event that could have continued for some time if schedules had permitted.

Rebecca began by contrasting Capitalism and Co-operation and exploring the mission of Universities as socially useful organizations. Asking the audience to hold first one ear, then the other, she told us we now held the principal capital of the university in our hands! Rebecca proceeded to explore this theme by considering fields of study as sites of resistance to the financialization of universities, and considering co-operation as the basis for a renewed contract between universities and society, and also as a way of reducing expenditure, lowering fees and improving working life for academics.

Mike proceeded to explain the work that he and others have undertaken at the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, and the connections this has with ‘Student as Producer‘ the official Learning and Teaching Strategy at the University of Lincoln. Mike drew on the work of Joss Winn to explore the nature of labour in the university, and identified the co-operative university as a potent institution with which to re-think the nature of work and labour, and to experiment with new organizing principles for societies badly in need of alternatives to ‘necro-neoliberalism’.

I then followed-up my MBA Consultancy Report ‘Realizing the Cooperative University’ (which identified the cooperatization of English Higher Education Institutions as a realizable opportunity) by considering the cooperative advantage that might be offered to the principal stakeholders in Higher Education. Calling the session ‘Who pays for what in the cooperative university – edging towards a business plan’ was designed to be provocative. I asked the audience to consider what advantage cooperation might offer each stakeholder group, and to consider what implications this might have for a business plan. I explicitly considered the route to the co-operative university as being the cooperatization of an existing university, a route which would implement the university in something recognisably similar to its current form, but with the impetus to co-operative evolution and transformation firmly embedded. I explored the role of the Rochdale Pioneers as businesspeople as well as radicals, foregrounding their use of commerce as a vehicle for tackling injustice and strengthening social bonds. In doing so I drew on Ron Barnett‘s work on the ‘Ecological University’

I hope I made the case for claiming management as an integrative function that can bring about a peerless cooperative higher education, delivered by the kind of ruggedly independent and free academic institutions we need.

My slides are here:


My notes for the event are here:

Who pays for what in the Coopuni notes

Presentation at the IoE on the Co-operative University report

Tom Woodin kindly invited me to speak to my report Realising the Cooperative University at the Institute of Education, which I did last night, following the eminent Stephen Yeo and the redoubtable Mervyn Wilson.

A copy of my slides is available here: Co-operative University Presentation 12/12/2013

It was a great opportunity to share the work I had done, and certainly engendered a good debate.

in retrospect I probably said too much about the legal, financial and governance aspects of the report, and not enough about the values, the questionnaire and the possible futures for the Cooperative University. Even so, the necessary and sufficient definition of a Cooperative University is a sensible place to begin.

I am always impressed by the excitement and interest that the topic of a Co-operative University generates. Tonight was no different. However, the nature of the debate impressed on me that there is some distance to travel before a manifesto or business plan for a genuinely Co-operative university could be developed. Nonetheless, yesterday’s debate brought a few questions to the fore for me:

1) What is the contribution of the disciplines to co-operation? Can we map it and expand it?

2) what would a cooperative education strategy look like?

3) the moral and intellectual case for a cooperative university could be written in an afternoon. I suspect that the setting of objectives and the development of a business plan would not proceed so smoothly. How do we make the administrative side of the cooperative university part of the intellectual project?

4) The language of money seemed like anathema to many in the room. That’s okay if the plan is to start small, but if we want a cooperative university that can pay decent wages, we need to accept that capital does not a Capitalist make. Where are all the co-operative economists?

5) The notion of a Trust University is a great one. is it truly co-operative, though, or a reinvention of a different idea – the university as a commons? It sit sensible to rely on a legal formula to protect the identity and purpose of a university? Could the enlightened self interest of a co-operative equally protect the great civilising project of the university?

6) What kind of compelling case can we make for a massive research project that will allow us to build the intellectual and business case for cooperation in higher education?