What does the HE and Research Bill mean for the prospect of Cooperative Universities?

In 2013 I wrote a consultancy report (Cook, 2013) for the Cooperative College, which demonstrated that there was no legal barrier to the establishment of a Cooperative University in England. I also laid-out the possible routes to creation of such an institution as being one of three main routes: establishing one and growing it from a modest capital base; founding one with a capital endowment; or converting an existing institution to co-operative status.

At that time, the principal difficulty in establishing a ‘Co-operative University’ stemmed from obtaining the right to use two protected titles: both ‘Co-operative’ and ‘University’ are legally restricted terms. Of the two, the term ‘University’ is the more closely protected, with substantial impediments to its adoption. As a result, my report concluded that the creation of a legal entity that is formally recognised as both a cooperative and a university would be most easily achieved through the strategy of converting an existing HE provider to co-operative status, thereby avoiding the difficulties involved in obtaining university title (UT), and concentrating on achieving co-operative status, which is legally simpler (though perhaps requiring culture change – itself not an insignificant barrier).


The passage of the new Higher Education and Research Bill (Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016) through Parliament will change this conclusion. The government intends to lower barriers to entry to the Higher Education sector. Founding a new cooperative university with a modest capital base will become feasible, and arguably more practical than the conversion of an existing university to cooperative status.

For cooperators, the salient features of the Bill are as follows: it will be more rapid and easier to establish a new HE provider with degree-awarding powers. Potentially from very early on in operation, with a clear path for building an academic record that leads to obtaining UT. A level playing field is being created where diversity of provision and student choice are prized.

In the “Success as a Knowledge Economy” White Paper (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016) that preceded the Bill we see some of the aspirations and clues to how the Bill will affect operations spelt out in more detail. This includes lots of aspirations that will be of interest to co-operators, such as widening access, increasing the proportion of attendance at university, levelling the playing field to encourage new market entrants, driving up the status of teaching and ensuring quality. Crucially, it also creates provision to allow much smaller institutions to become universities, with para 14 stating:


This means that a small cooperative organisation like the Social Science Centre in Lincoln, could now see a route to becoming a university in name, and this appears to be in-line with the government’s intentions, with other parts of the White Paper arguing that the legislation allows for a return to small communities of scholars establishing as universities:


However, not everything in the White Paper is written on the face of the Bill – some of the statements will depend on the way in which the regulatory framework it establishes is operated by the Office for Students, and the minimum student numbers required is among these matters of interpretation.

In Being a University, Ron Barnett argues that ‘the idea of the university has continually to be revisited and reimagined’ (2011, p.2). This legislation, for all that it increases the regulatory scaffold and burden for higher education in England, allows precisely this re-imagining to occur. It reduces the requirement for a university to be a large, established institution with 1,000 or more students, and creates the possibility of revenue streams to support the development and emergence of new forms and ideas of the university. This draft legislation has arguably come not a moment too soon, because as Barnett writes: ‘we desperately need more imagination to be brought to bear in identifying new ideas for the development of the university’ (ibid, p.5). In Success as a Knowledge Economy, the government intends to enable a return to ‘the historic concept of universities as small, academic communities’ (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016, p.30). The stage is set for experimentation with the form of the University.

Parallels can be drawn with the cooperative schools movement, which utilised the legislation on Academies to become in a very short period of time, the third largest schools grouping in England, larger than all groupings except the Church of England and Roman Catholic schools foundations. On that occasion, the prospect of Local Authority-controlled assets passing to private academy trusts was the motivation to establish a cooperative alternative. In this case, the prospect of existing universities potentially passing into the hands of profit-seeking businesses (or perhaps a belief that universities have grown into managerialist bureaucracies, coupled with the sense that something can now be done about this) may have a similar galvanising effect. The main inhibitors to the creation of cooperative universities are imagination and culture on one hand, and the general complexities involved in growing a new institution to university scale on the other. By levelling the playing-field, creating a Register that acts as a pathway to UT, establishing a stronger market in validation, and reducing the minimum numbers of students required, this legislation creates the conditions for entrepreneurial higher education folks to reinvent the university. Clearly a wide range of universities may be invented as a result of new legislation. Now is an opportunity to demonstrate that a cooperative higher education can have wide appeal.

In a world that has adjusted to ‘a loss of grand narratives’ (Lyotard, [1979] 1987, in Barnett, 2011, p.16) universities ‘have to have recourse to a language about themselves’ (Barnett, 2011, p.16) that opens up authentic possibilities for their futures. ‘[U]niversities have to decide how they are to be in the world.’ (ibid, p.16). Will these be the ruling neoliberal ideologies of ‘competition, efficiency, income generation’ (ibid, p.16) or can they ‘hope to furnish some authenticity for themselves’ (ibid, p.16) through the language, values and principles of the cooperative movement? (see ICA, 1995)

Section-by-section reading of the Bill

The main part of the rest of this blog is a line-by-line reading of the Bill (Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016), and the numbers I use reference the various sections of the Bill as it is laid before Parliament. I should add that nothing here is a particular endorsement of the Bill, as provisions that aid the creation of Cooperative Universities could aid other organisations more, or have unintended consequences that are perhaps undesirable. This is intended to be a lay-person’s reading and commentary on the Bill with an interest in utilising its provisions for the practical establishment of cooperative universities in England.

See the References section of this post for more information about the Bill, or to find a link where you can download a copy.

Part 1

2(1)(a): The newly-established Office for Students (OfS) will have a duty to “promote quality, and greater choice and opportunities for students, in the provision of higher education”. This, amongst other things, aids the arguments for a diversity of corporate forms in the HE sector, which naturally includes co-operative forms.

2(1)(b): co-operative universities will be expected to operate in a competitive framework, but only insofar as this is in the interests of students. While seemingly trivial, this last point does make it easier to envisage associations of new small cooperative universities working together in a non-competitive way to serve student interests.

2(1)(c): Cooperative universities will be able to do a number of things ‘out of the box’ that other corporate forms struggle with: key amongst these is providing financial transparency for members (which of course could, arguably should include students). This could become a great asset, as the evidence shows that the raising of fees has dented perceptions of value for money considerably.

2(1)(d): The equality and access requirements will place some (pro-social) restrictions on the rules for participation in the cooperative university, one would imagine. Though it is not clear how this duty will be interpreted – could be at the level of the student having access to market, or a duty on an institution to have fair admissions, though this latter tempered by 2(3)(c).

2(3)(a): preserves academic freedom around how courses are run, the curriculum, the assessment, etc. This appears to offer a fairly strong protection from government interference in learning, as does all of 2(4)

2(5): It is not entirely clear, but if cooperative universities were homogenous enough in their corporate forms to comprise a ‘description’ of HEPs, then it is not inconceivable that the Secretary of State could advise the OfS to treat them in a particular way, different to other HEPs, but still within the terms of the final Act.

3(1)-(4): Cooperative HEPs would have the option of being on or not on the register, but there are advantages and disadvantages in both cases, though I believe more advantages to be gained from registration than operating outside the framework. Cooperative universities could (theoretically) be in their own part of the register, but it is unlikely that a part will be created for them prospectively. We should therefore expect cooperative HEPs to be registered alongside other HEPs.

The conditions in 3(3)(a)-(d) for entry in the register are cumulative – all the conditions must be met. Interestingly, entry on the register is available to 3(3)(b) organisations that intend to become HEPs. This means that the barrier to this first tier of recognition – entry on the register – is available to any cooperative that intends to become an HEP, and has a governing body that asks to be registered, as long as it satisfies the initial registration conditions, and any requirements placed upon it in the light of 3(5), or 5.

3(5): gives the OfS and the Secretary of State (via guidance) the power to determine the way the application process works, and this will no doubt be used to establish some basic threshold conditions, to avoid abuse of the process. Registration rules can be revised 3(7)(a), and conditions can be applied (b). We do not know what will be included in this, but one can imagine certain financial, student numbers, staff capabilities, legal and other conditions being put in place to avoid applications that are frivolous, vexatious, or have low prospects of success. How these judgements will be made is not clear, but given the very small size of some Alternative Providers, with around 50 HE students in a single discipline, it is hard to believe that the bar will be set very high – thus far the governments aims have been to support challenger institutions to enter the market for HE course provision.

4: details more about the registration procedure. Again, this gives the government a lot of room to innovate, as it really only specifies time periods (28 days) and that reasons have to be given if registration is not permitted. Given the existence of the Public Sector Mutuals programme under the coalition and the present government, and given that corporate form is likely to be the only (legally) distinctive feature about a cooperative, it is hard to see any grounds for discrimination that would not impact equally on similar-sized organisations.

5: and 6: says a little more about the latitude that the OfS have to impose and change conditions of registration, including for particular ‘descriptions’ of provider, but interestingly also places a (weak) requirement upon it to consult with sector bodies. It is therefore in the interest of early registered cooperatives to establish an appropriate sector organisation or apex body to serve in this capacity, as a relative priority. Alternative Providers have not yet achieved this, and as a result arguably present to government in a fragmentary way, but it should be easy for coops to adopt this approach early on. 7: argues that the approach should be risk based, so the more rapidly coops establish appropriate collective control mechanisms, collaborative approaches, financial risk sharing and resource sharing, etc., as has been done in the cooperative schools movement) the lower the risks are likely to be and the lower therefore the likely regulatory burden.

8: indicates that the registered provider will require an effective governing body, and will be subject to a requirement to provide information. This could mean anything from a copy of the published accounts through to something like a HESA data return, and is probably the legal gateway through which all providers will be required to submit statistical information in future.

9: sets an absolute floor for data requirements in 8: of requiring transparency about the publication of application information, for equalities monitoring purposes.

10: provides the enabling mechanism for fee caps to be put in place, and for there to be different fee caps for different descriptions of providers. In some cases, this could also mean (in effect) no cap, and this is clearly the case for international students and most postgraduates. Caps are in relation to regulated courses only. 11: provides that these caps must be published.

12: details how access and participation plans will be put in place to permit higher fees to be charged for regulated courses. This is not entirely dissimilar to the way Offa’s Access Agreements work currently, but in a level playing field for all providers.

13: details other conditions of registration, and raises some interesting provisions, namely that there can be fees for registration; that there might have to be a plan in place to support students if the provider exits the sector; requirements to subscribe to designated bodies (presumably like HESA or the QAA); requirements to meet certain quality standards; and public interest conditions.

These 14: public interest governance conditions can be applied, and there can be different conditions applicable for different descriptions of providers. Academic Freedom is also enshrined in this section, but of course might not apply to all descriptions of provider.

15: tells us that financial penalties can be levied if conditions of registration are broken.

16: and 17: tell us that registration can be suspended and how this will be administered, including that it can be very rapid if necessary to protect public money 17(8), and that this can lead to 18: and 19: de-registration. An appeal 20: can be mounted.

21: in addition, renewal of an access and participation plan can be refused, which could curtail an important income stream.

22: A provider can also be voluntarily de-registered.

23: The OfS appears to have the power to make a wide range of provision for quality and standards assessment, but where there are specific conditions applying to a registration, then it must do this. 24: a committee will be set up for this purpose, and this committee will advise OfS and have a majority of HE-sector representatives who are not members of OfS.

25: a quality and standards rating scheme for HE provision will be put in place. This is the “TEF”.

26: Specifies that a designated body (think the QAA) can perform quality assessment functions on behalf of the OfS, and says something about the contractual arrangement for this. 27: permits designated bodies to charge fees, and makes some provisions about the limits of these fees, perhaps in recognition that a market is not being created for the provision of these services.

28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35: Establish the conditions for access and participation plans, and linking these to the power to charge certain levels of fee for regulated courses.

36: permits the Secretary of State to demand a report on equalities issues.

37, 38 and 39: empowers the OfS to fund activity, and the terms and conditions that surround this. This includes a provision 37(1) for one provider to be paid to run education at another, perhaps in connexion with a suspension or exit. This seems similar to the provisions for academies in the Schools sector, and will be familiar to cooperators in the schools movement.

40: authorises the OfS to grant degrees, classified into taught, research or foundation degrees. This can be a general power, a power in a specified area or discipline, or a closely-specified authorisation. 40(6) enables these powers to be time-limited, or indefinite. 40(4) and (5) write into legislation that FE colleges offering foundation degrees must ensure these support progression to more advanced study.

40(10): gives the OfS the power to author Statutory Instruments, and 43(1) allows these to override previous Acts of Parliament and Royal Charters. This levels the playing field considerably.

41(1): deals with franchised provision, and places closer government control on it. 46: extends the OfS’s power to oversee and require one body to validate the degrees of another, and 47: gives to the OfS its own reserved powers to validate taught and foundation degrees – powers not dissimilar to those of the CNAA, but not intended to be used much – expediency and the Secretary of State’s approval are required. While this does not directly affect co-operators, it does tend to level the playing field for smaller organisations that face difficulties or expense in getting accreditation by a third party institution.

51, 52, 53, 54: These sections confer a wide range of powers to the OfS in terms of University Title (UT), giving it the power to confer and revoke titles, under a wide range of circumstance. This section is a game-changer for the prospect of a cooperative university, because it provides a clear set of powers that would enable a registered provider with a cooperative legal form to be granted UT, using a statutory instrument.

56: Grants powers of entry and search where a provider is in receipt of public funds!

57: Extends the duty to provide information to the OfS to unregistered providers. This in essence means that the OfS can require information from any English HE provider.

58: this section on cooperation and information is more about how the OfS must work with other parts of government.

59: creates provision for the publication of information about higher education in England by a designated body. This is likely to be an enabling framework for the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

60: creates provision for a designated body to publish information. Again, this is understood to be an enabling framework for the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and 61: permits the designated body to charge fees.

62: creates a general power for the OfS to undertake an efficiency study on a registered provider, and to require the cooperation of the provider.

63, 64 and 65: create powers for the OfS to charge fees to registered providers, and to recover its costs where taking hard regulatory action.

66: The Secretary of State can make grants to the OfS, but these are circumscribed.

67: The OfS is expected to publish its regulatory framework and the general conditions and circumstances for continued compliance with general conditions of registration. Relevant bodies must be consulted.

68: The Secretary of State may designate further powers to the OfS, with some constraints.

69: The Secretary of State may give directions to the OfS.

70: The Secretary of State may require the OfS to give it information or advice.

71: Gives the Secretary of State the power to require information about applications and offers from UCAS, or another body, and 72: provides that this information can be published.

73: Disestablishes HEFCE and 74: disestablishes OFFA.

75: A section of definitions that 75(1) clarifies the geographical and logical extent of the Bill, and which has the effect of bringing overseas higher education providers operating within England into the scope of HE legislation for the first time. While this does not affect co-operators directly (unless the University of Mondragon wishes to set-up shop in London) it does create a level playing field, and ensure that students at foreign universities operating in England (like Richmond) are within the scope of the protections offered by English HE legislation, for the first time. It also has the effect of re-introducing the word ‘institution’ as the baseline terms for training providers of any sort, meaning that this word can be used once again to refer to all ‘alternative providers’ and universities and colleges.

76: covers powers of designation. This appears to allow for bodies corporate that might not appear to be very much like universities to be designated as providers. It is difficult to understand how the provisions here might interact with the concept of registration, but this section could possibly be used to designate a large company with a well-founded in-house learning programme as coming within the orbit of this legislation.

77: offers further definition and clarification, including a helpful reminder of the definition of [tuition] fees 77(2) as not including board and lodging, field trips, graduation ceremonies or things that the Secretary of State takes a view on.

Part 2

78 and 79: Are of interest to co-operators. They move the language of student financial support in HE away from being purely about loans, to include ‘Alternative Payments’. This creates a framework for a national cooperative loan scheme, run by the Student Loans Company, to provide a Sharia-compliant ‘Takaful’ loan scheme. This will permit (in particular) Muslim students who wish to access public finance and obey Sharia law on the charging and owing of interest, to do so in a way comparable to students who have student loans. This provision enables the state to establish a cooperative financial fund to be run by the SLC. However, this scheme will likely be open to all, and it will be interesting to see if there is a large take-up of the co-operative scheme rather than the existing capitalist one.

80: appears to make the setting of student financial support a matter for the Secretary of State, rather than Parliament.

81: places all registered institutions within the scope of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

82: This section for clarity, deregulates post-92 HE providers that are Higher Education Corporations (HEC) within the meaning of the 1992 Act. It enables the HEC to change its governing documents (which gives a HEC freedoms closer to those of a university established by Royal Charter or Act of Parliament). However, there is a strong provision that the HEC may not stop being a Charity, which will please many, but could have a side-effect of preventing post-1992 universities converting to an appropriate cooperative status, unless provision is made through amendment of other Acts. Schedule 2 of the Charities Act 1993 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1993/10/schedule/2) defines what are known as ‘Exempt Charities’ – these are Charitable organisations for whom, in essence, the principal regulator is not the Charities Commission. It includes provision for the HE sector, and the Cooperative sector. Since there are provisions in the Cooperative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 for a Society for the Benefit of the Community (or BenCom) to also be a charity, it may be that a HEC could convert to a society for the benefit of the community status without revoking or altering its exempt charitable status. However, there is a risk (to my untutored legalistic eye) that this is not so, based upon the following reasoning:

Schedule 8 Section 8 of the HE and Research Bill inserts a change into the Education Reform Act 1988 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/40/section/125A). This in turn references the Charities Act 1993’s definition of exempt charities (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1993/10/schedule/2) which in Schedule 2 (y) references older cooperative Acts than the 2014 Act:


Arguably, therefore, a provision needs to be made in the 1993 Act to update Schedule 2 (y) to reference the 2014 consolidation Act. While there are a large number of outstanding changes to be made to this Act, nothing from the 2014 Act appears in the list of pending changes. Arguably, for a cooperative (BenCom) university to exist by way of a conversion from an existing HEC, and for there to be a level playing-field with other providers, the cooperative university should be unambiguously identified as an exempt charity, and hence regulated in the same way as other registered providers. There is a later Charities Act 2011 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/25/schedule/3), which does reference the 2014 Act, but unfortunately, the list of exempt charities is categorised in a different way, and it is not immediately clear whether a cooperative university would be an exempt charity in the meaning of the 2011 Act.

Part 3

This refers exclusively to the creation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a single successor to the currently separate Research Councils. There is little of specific interest to cooperators here.

Part 4

There is little of interest here, other than to note that the Act extends to England and Wales only, apart from some minor revisions to older primary legislation which is in any case now under devolved administration, even though it’s in force.


Schedule 1: Deals with the organisation of the OfS

2(2)(d) does invite the Secretary of State, when considering appointments to OfS, to consider the desirability of appointing a person with experience of “promoting choice for consumers or other service users, and encouraging competition, in industry or another sector of society,” but no equivalent around cooperative values.

Schedule 2: Deals with the conditions through which limits may be set to fees in respect to providers with certain quality ratings in TEF, and with access plans.

Schedule 3: Deals with monetary penalties that can be imposed

Schedule 4: In three Parts, deals with ‘Designated bodies’ that can conduct assessment of HE activities on behalf of the OfS, and refers to the processes for identifying, appointing and controlling bodies like the QAA.

Schedule 5: Explains the powers of entry and search in more detail, and essentially explains that the OfS can get a warrant to enter and search premises, and remove things. This toughens-up the regulatory capability of the OfS.

Schedule 6: In three Parts, deals with ‘Designated bodies’ that can publish information about HE on behalf of the OfS, and refers to the processes for identifying, appointing and controlling bodies like HESA.

Schedule 7: Covers cost-recovery for the OfS’s regulatory duties.

Schedule 8: Covers HECs, and is discussed in more detail in the notes to 82: above.

Schedule 9: Deals with the organisation of UKRI.

Schedule 10: Dealt with the transfer of staff and property of HEFCE, the Research Councils and so on to UKRI and the OfS.

Schedule 11: Minor and inconsequential changes. This is where we should see an item addressing the notes to 82: above.

27: indicates that only some registered providers will be brought within scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Schedule 12: More minor and inconsequential changes.



Barnett, R. (2011). Being a university. London: Routledge.

Cook, D. (2013). Realising the Cooperative University (Consultancy report). The Co-operative College & The Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from https://coopuni.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/creating-a-co-operative-university-in-england/

Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. (2016). Success as a knowledge economy: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-success-as-a-knowledge-economy-white-paper

ICA: International Co-operative Alliance. (1995). Co-operative identity, values & principles. Retrieved 21 June 2016, from http://ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-identity-values-principles

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 — UK Parliament, Pub. L. No. Bill 004 EN 2016/17 (2016). Retrieved from http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/highereducationandresearch.html


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.


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…


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

Newcastle College: hacking, co-operatives, and Students as Producers

Joss Winn has just posted an excellent blog of his conference keynote speech. In it he recognises the co-operative journey Newcastle College has been on through their adoption and development of ‘Student as Producer’. Joss challenges them to take the next step: into explicitly considering and adopting an organizational form that embodies the principles of Student as Producer: a co-operative legal form. Stirring stuff.


Ideas for enabling mutual growth – the Hunt review

Mutuo, the leading co-operative think tank, published the Hunt Review at the end of 2014. It is a wide-ranging document that seeks to advise the government (or perhaps a future government) on practical actions that could be taken to support the growth of mutuals.

The Education sector is tackled as a part of the public sector, where Hunt notes that:

“Mutuality offers a way of harnessing and expressing the public interest, whilst maintaining the independence of businesses. Government can act to bring these bodies closer to the people that they serve.”

(Hunt, 2014. p.33)


Drawing on the extraordinary success and rapid growth of the Co-operative Schools movement, Hunt recommends expansion:

“Taking Co-operative and mutual models to other parts of the education sector”

(Hunt, 2014. p.34)

This can only mean the FE and HE sectors. There is, of course, only a small amount of work on what this might look like in HE. For all that they are educational institutions, Universities are vastly more complex than schools, and as independently incorporated bodies, are unlikely to rush into a new business model without careful consideration (whereas forced academization arguably played a significant role in the rapid growth of the co-operative schools movement). However, the development of a benefits-led case to support experiments in co-operative higher education could bear fruit.

Hunt also recommends a review of “the power of the private sector in the examination system and explore the potential of a school/college owned mutual alternative “. This might be a fertile area for a mutual experiment in higher education, especially given the groundwork that Michael Gove put in with drawing the Russell Group into A-level reform – there may be a greater appetite for this sort of work if Universities feel they are overseeing something that has broad backing from the schools sector, rather than being implicated in a top-down government drive to change exams.

Many of the other recommended provisions in the report are tangential to education, but would have a fundamental impact on a university converting to co-operative status. These include establishing a level playing field with other corporate forms, tax incentives, improved government support for mutuals, collection of data to support evidence-based policy relating to mutuals, legally-binding protection from asset-stripping and demutualisation, and crucially, new capital instruments for raising funds. All of which, if implemented, could make mutualisation a more attractive prospect for universities.


Hunt, P. (2014). The Hunt Review An independent review of the contribution that mutuals can make to growth, prosperity and fairness (p. 39). London: Mutuo. Retrieved from http://www.mutuo.co.uk/news/mutuals-policy-review-published/

National Center for Employee Ownership

I have discovered (through an endnote in Erdal, 2011) a great resource in the US National Centre for Employee Ownership, which describes itself as “a nonprofit membership and research organization that was founded in 1981 to provide most objective and reliable information possible on employee ownership at the most affordable price possible.”


The NCEO also does a nice line in infographics:

The Economic Power of Employee Ownership

Infographic by National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) from The Economic Power of Employee Ownership

If you’re wondering what an ESOP is, there’s a snazzy infographic for that, too, which explains about Employee Share Ownership Plan legislation in the US:

What Is an ESOP

Infographic by National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) from What Is an ESOP?
In case you think this might be a minority thing in the US, over the pond it is understood as ‘shared capitalism’, and has a wide reach:
ESOPs in the U.S.

Infographic by National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) from ESOPs in the U.S.

While employee ownership does not necessitate identification as a co-operative, it is an element of co-operative identity. ESOPs do not have to have a majority share in company ownership, but many do, and there are considerable numbers at 100% ownership.

Central to the ESOP concept is the idea that a well-run firm will pay for itself over the long lerm, and so a loan can be used to purchase a company, rather than workers requiring access to capital (perhaps through a redundancy payout and savings) at a time of crisis. This framework makes an orderly transition towards employee ownership possible, and is something that bears wider attention. It has especial relevance to the HE sector, where institutions are normally fairly stable and long-lived organizations, and hence offer a sound bet for long-term loan financing.



Erdal, D. (2011). Beyond the corporation: humanity working. London: Bodley Head.

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


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.


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.”


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.

NMITE – prospects of a co-operative university in Hereford inconclusive…

A few last-minute updates…

The Co-operative University

With a week to go until the big announcement about a new university in Hereford, I’ve been digging around in the local press and elsewhere on the internet. I’ve had to, because the published info@nmite.org.uk address is bouncing all my attempts to sign up to the mailing list!

I am yet to find conclusive evidence that co-operative governance is being considered, explicitly. However, I have found evidence of further co-operative links, in the form of a theory that the Robert Owen Vocational School might be sharing a possible site with NMITE. The trail to this other organization ran cold* (Its website is giving me the 404 this evening) but from what I could glean it is a Free School, which has faced considerable local opposition. The school’s parent organization (the Robert Owen Group) does claim to be a co-operative: http://www.robertowen.org/about-us.html so there is some sort of (tenuous) co-operative connexion through the putative…

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NMITE – prospects of a co-operative university in Hereford inconclusive…

With a week to go until the big announcement about a new university in Hereford, I’ve been digging around in the local press and elsewhere on the internet. I’ve had to, because the published info@nmite.org.uk address is bouncing all my attempts to sign up to the mailing list!

I am yet to find conclusive evidence that co-operative governance is being considered, explicitly. However, I have found evidence of further co-operative links, in the form of a theory that the Robert Owen Vocational School might be sharing a possible site with NMITE. The trail to this other organization ran cold* (Its website is giving me the 404 this evening) but from what I could glean it is a Free School, which has faced considerable local opposition. The school’s parent organization (the Robert Owen Group) does claim to be a co-operative: http://www.robertowen.org/about-us.html so there is some sort of (tenuous) co-operative connexion through the putative campus location.

The internet archive has some captures of the previous holding page for the university: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.thenewuniversity-herefordshire.org.uk/* though these do not extend beyond the homepage. However, an archived discussion on the Herefordshire Voice forum did reveal some interesting information (http://www.herefordvoice.co.uk/topic/1170-the-new-university-herefordshire/) including that the project:

‘is being conceived as a not-for-profit institution, with mixed funding, and operating with input from The John Lewis Partnership model. The assets and endowments of the university will be held in trust by The Herefordshire Tertiary Education Trust.’

It also offers a link to a 2009 Herefordshire Council debate in Cabinet which gives background to these aspirations and also to the likely site in the city centre: http://councillors.herefordshire.gov.uk/ieIssueDetails.aspx?IId=17475&PlanId=0&Opt=3#AI16820 which does seem to be the same as the Robert Owen Free School.

The Herefordshire Tertiary Education Trust (http://www.hte-t.org/) appears to be the legal vehicle used to get the project to its current stage, which is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee (as indeed are many co-operatives). (Due to the somewhat antiquated web technology Companies House uses, you have to go there and search for company no. 08799922 yourself.)

And finally, according to the High Sheriff of Herefordshire, it is a Good Thing.

So tantalizing, inconclusive, but as yet, no cigar.

Roll-on 1pm Friday 6th March 2015, when all will be revealed…

* Update 15 mins after posting “D’Oh! – If The Rober Owen Vocational School is in fact a school it will have a UKPRN. It does. 10042334. Edubase says this about it: http://www.education.gov.uk/edubase/establishment/summary.xhtml?urn=139895 It has 30 pupils and is indeed based on the Blackfriars site mentioned above.

PS The BBC did a news item about the New University last year: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-26987031

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


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

All together now: towards cooperatives

My work was mentioned today in the Times Higher Education in an article with the above title. Find it at:


In my opinion the next piece of work necessary to extend the co-operative university idea is the development of a blueprint or plan for conversion of an existing university to co-operative status. A small matter that I shall get around to when I have time!