Notes from the SSC conference 2014

Social Science Centre, Lincoln Conference 2014: ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’

Joss welcomed people to the conference, gave a short introduction to the SSC and outlined the day’s programme. He said it was wonderful that people from as far apart as Southampton and Glasgow had come to Lincoln.

Mike described the SSC as an act of resistance to the politics of austerity in education.

Session 1:  Papers and presentations

Aniko Hovarth, Kings College London, described the post-doctoral research around alternative Higher Education: how identities have been negotiated in Higher Education following 2010 restructuring, and how power relations are jointly produced.  She contrasted the UK experience to Central University in Budapest where she was paid to do her PhD research (on the reproduction of poverty).

David MacAleavy, Lincoln SSC, took an evolutionary perspective on cooperative education, posing the question: How can the built environment lead to pro-social behaviour?  He outlined research on the dramatic effect of peripheral visual data – pictures of houses from two different neighbourhoods – to promote cooperation in the prisoners’ dilemma experiement.  David explained that the fabric of a neighbourhood acts as an indicator of social cohesion.  How can we “seed our localities” with cues that promote pro-sociality?

Angela Porter, Lincolnshire Cooperatives, introduced how she works with businesses and organisations to embed the values and principles of cooperation, as defined by the Rochdale Pioneers, giving examples such as the Food to Fork program for schools, and Community Champions to provide funding and volunteer help to local community projects.

Andreas Wittel talked to us about Education as a journey.  The combination of digital technologies and neo-liberal thinking are having disastrous results.  Andreas argued that Higher Education is too specialised to act as a commons, because of the one-sided relationship between students and teacher: what do teachers get?   Knowledge can be a resource, and the family and home could be a commons, but education in neither a resource nor a commons, but is a journey.  He referred to Ostram’s research into cooperative groups, stating a need for a penalising system.  Ostram concludes that sharing a commons can only work in a local way where people know each other and are watching each other.  However, research could be organised around a commons.

Mark Naranya, Community Education Norwich, asked: where is our attention focussed?  People tend to focus on detail, and to hear only one thing at a time, but pulling back to a wider perspective is difficult and fun.  He also described how learning to lip read can improve hearing: it is about attention.  Mark invited us to be guided by a friend with our eyes closed, and led us on a sound walk around the building of the Collection, to bring our attention to the environment and people around us, and to experience it differently, and through trust.

Mike pulled out some general themes from these presentations that could be used as framework for discussion throughout the day. These were:

  • Politics and Co-operation – are we for or against Capitalism: reform or revolution
  • Academic/activist identity: resistance or conformity
  • Co-operation by design – how to we build into the environments we create the values of the co-operative movement
  • The public versus private distinction is not enough on which to create a new politics of education, but can we rely on the concept of ‘the Commons’?


Second Session: Who are you and what do you want to know?

Mike recapped on the points highlighted from the first session and asked the question:

‘Is it possible to be a critical (functioning) academic inside an English University under the current political and economic regime?’

In response to the question ‘Who are you and what do you want to know?’ [please see responses below – not everyone present made a spoken contribution to this question]

Notes from the flipchart:

Billy (Grimsby HE/FE)  Bruised and appalled by the current HE system. He wants to create a space of freedom rather than control, that he feels lies at the heart of SSC. To walk and talk with us

Joyce (Birmingham) Had been made ill by the HE system. Was setting up alternative HE in Birmingham, but how to we sustain cooperative forms of HE

Alan (Mablethorpe) Starts from the problem of poverty and lack of educational opportunities for all. He wants to ask ‘What is education for and how do we improve it?’

Gordon (Glasgow) To learn lessons from the work of the SSC and to offer support. To be a critical academic he argued it is necessary to have one foot inside and one foot outside the HE institution

James (London) He was involved in voluntary organisations promoting community education. He was concerned about the dichotomy between conflict versus cooperation, given the current state of working class struggles

Karolina (Lincoln) Is there another way of building alternatives that does not have to begin from the negative principle of being against

Mark (Norwich) He wanted to draw out attention to those who are not with us in the room: the dispossessed and how do we get them to engage. He asked how do we maintain integrity and purpose if the scale of the SSC expands.

Adam (Lincoln) He is interested in Cooperatives and wanted to learn about what we are doing

Sandy (Lincoln) Works on the borders of HE/FE. She is working on issues of climate change as well as community and practice based initiatives. She finds the SSC a stimulating environment.

Jonathan (Nottingham ) How do we mainstream what the SSC is doing?

Alice – what about projects that use concepts like co-operation but have a different political approach?

Sam (Edinburgh) She wants to get inspiration to create more internal disruption and interventions and to find ways to collaborate

Erroll (Edinburgh) Not find a methodology by which his current values could be operationalised in the form of an educational project in ways that were non-adversarial

Aniko (London) How do members of SSC make the time and space to do this work and how to sustain if, particularly on if the scale expands. She wants to reclaim public space through ‘pirate activities’.

Gary (Lincoln) He is researching alternative forms of higher education: by which he means ‘compete against and contradict’. This conference signals a big shift in the SSC to a more outward looking focus. How will this affect practice. What are we all going to do tomorrow to further the aims of this event.

James (Lincoln) ‘What can the SSC do for me and what can I do for the SSC?’

Joe (Manchester) He is doing a Physics PhD and is involved in promoting forms of student activism and resistance to the current government policies for higher education.

Third session: What do we do tomorrow?

In the final session of the day, we split into four tables of 6 or 7 people to discuss what we could do tomorrow to move towards co-operative higher education. Joss framed the discussions in terms of ‘three routes’: 1) Conversion; 2) Dissolution; 3) Creation.

  1. Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative. Read Dan Cook’s report: ‘Realising the co-operative university‘.
  2. Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out. Read about Student as Producer.
  3. Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the  same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established. Read about the Social Science Centre.

For the workshop, people were encouraged to focus on routes two and three.

Table 1:

Creating Cooperative Higher Education

Iteration 2: the East Coast (Grimsby and Mablethorpe)


Set up Cooperative Higher Education Centres as part of a national/trans-national network of resistance

Values to the forefront


  • existing models don’t work for humans
  • cost/fees
  • challenge system
  • knowledge liberation
  • forward thinking
  • social transformation


Let’s get started.


  • Higher Education and work down
  • Start from the questions
  • Student as Producer – everybody is a scholar
  • Face to Face
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • Online discussions & Webcasts
  • Twitter links – linking the coastal strip



East Coast:

  • Grimsby (Billy)
  • Mablethorpe (Alan)

Glasgow? Norwich? Wales?


“Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa.” (Lefebvre)


  • Contacts from Mike at Grimsby Institute
  • Contact from Sandie at Grimsby Institute
  • Cooperative contacts on the east coast?
  • Workers education contacts on the east coast? Ruskin College
  • Wider contacts and allies on the east coast?

For Whom? The people not in the room – community education

Table 2:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Table 3

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Summary of notes on table 3:

This table discussed the work of Kathi Weeks, her critique of work and her advocacy of a reduction of working hours and the introduction of a universal guaranteed basic income. Both of these initiatives would provide people with greater freedom from work and allow for greater time to conceive and practice alternatives to capitalism. (This was also discussed on the recent SSC course). A reduction in working hours is also something put forward by the New Economics Foundation (21 hours report) and a basic income is increasingly discussed across Europe.

The question of acting locally, nationally and internationally was discussed and the need for the SSC to “visit places and talk”. We need to identify what alternative practices already exist, relative to oppressive practices. Much is being done and has been done, although we recognised that capital encloses educational alternatives. What examples can we learn from? e.g. The Plebs League; the growth of Liberal Arts colleges in the US. We need to continue to develop relationships with other, similar initiatives. We recognised the continuing need to engage in both theoretical and practical work (i.e. ‘praxis’).

Table 4

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

One thought on “Notes from the SSC conference 2014

  1. Hi all

    It really seems to have been an enjoyable and productive event. One thing I noticed, though, is that a lot of the participants seem to have been PH.d students and/or employees of FE and HE institutions. I am wondering if undergraduates, postgraduates, and further education students also feel that the current educational system leaves a lot to be desired. If not, why not?

    I think this is a good question to ponder.

    Best wishes,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *