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.

Themes

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?

Reading

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)  http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/wp-content/themes/mondragon/docs/eng/annual-report-2014.pdf

Co-operatives UK – Start a Co-op http://www.uk.coop/developing-co-ops/start-co-operative

Radical Roots (2012) How to Set Up a Workers Co-operative http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/publicdownloads/setupaworkerscoop-lowres.pdf

 

Timetable

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 (info@socialsciencecentre.org.uk) if you wish to join it instead of this workshop.

Workshop – Law 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 – Legal Considerations for Co-operative Higher Education

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

Date: Friday 9th October, 2015, 10am – 4pm

This workshop will focus on how co-operative legislation and regulation can enable and support the development of co-operative higher education. We will consider this within the context of existing legislation and regulation of higher education in the UK.

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 and governance) will be presented to you at the start of the day. We have suggested a structure for the Legal workshop, together with a number of key themes to be addressed and some suggested 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.

Themes

Key suggested themes to be addressed at this workshop include:

  • ‘University’ title or simply ‘higher education’?
  • Navigating the HEFCE framework: From validated courses to degree awarding powers.
  • Applying co-operative legislation to a change of legal status or control/ownership of a university.
  • Alternatives to the HEFCE framework.

Readings

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.51-56)

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: Higher Education: market entry guidance. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/higher-education-market-entry-guidance

HEFCE Operating Framework for Higher Education http://www.hefce.ac.uk/reg/of/

Mulqueen, Tara (2012) When a business isn’t a business: law and the political in the history of the United Kingdom’s co-operative movement.

Snaith, Ian (2014) Handbook of Co-operative and Community Benefit Society Law. (chapter one)

Timetable

We are expecting fewer participants at this workshop (about ten), perhaps due to the specialist nature of the topic. Because of this, 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 – 13.00 Roundtable discussion: Co-operative law and regulation

13.00 – 13.45 Lunch

13.45 – 15.45 Roundtable discussion: Higher Education law and regulation

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 Thursday 22nd October 19.00 – 21.00 BST. More details will follow on how to join the online focus group. Please let us know (info@socialsciencecentre.org.uk) 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.

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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?

Attendees

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.

Attendees:

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)