Co-operative higher education conference paper and poster

SSC Scholars, Mike Neary and Joss Winn recently presented a conference paper and poster at the Co-operative Education conference in Manchester. These have been produced as part of our research project that aims to develop ‘a model for co-operative higher education.’

The paper and poster will also be presented at the International Co-operative Alliance’s research conference in May, and the Universities in the Knowledge Economy conference in June.

Download the paper (PDF). Comment on the paper (Google Docs)

We’d really appreciate comments on the framework we have developed in the paper and is illustrated below.

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education (click to enlarge)

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education. Design by Sam Randall, student at University of Lincoln.

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:

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Table 3

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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

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Notes from SSC Planning Meeting, 1st March 2014, at Revival Centre

Meeting started at 12 noon

Venue – Revival Centre, Sincil Street, Lincoln

Present: Lucy, Andrew, Peaceful, Mike, Gary, David

Apologies: Sarah, Richard, Joss, Adrian

1. Conference

The cost of the venue for the conference is approximately £600.

It was agreed to subsidise the cost of the food – £10 for evening meal and £6 for lunch, but to expect people to make a donation.

We need to check number of registrations so far with JW – Action MN

We need to check if any papers have been put forward to morning session –  Action MN

Sessions to present co-operative work and other similar types of activity in Lincoln and elsewhere need to be identified.

Invitations to be made to like-minded groups eg GS to contact PPE, Ragged, Brighton Free University, AMac to contact Capital and Class.

Adam and DMc to take photographs of the event. Arrangements for recording ( audio/video) need to be made.

Walking Tour – who will be leading this needs to be confirmed – MN to speak with JW

Chairs for sessions – needs to be confirmed.

Press and Publicity – GS to speak with RK

Posters and Flyers – Following LS advice MN to sort out printing of more flyers. These should include times of start and finish.

Check necessary materials will be provided eg Flipcharts and pens: DMc

Walk through – need to walk through the days events before the event. This might have already been done. Check with JW

2. SSC – teaching programmes

We started to discuss arrangements for next term. There was a view that next term should focus on writing projects, supervised and mentored by teacher-scholars. The teacher-scholars can meet weekly with student-scholars, and for whole group to meet every 3-4 weeks as a group to discuss and share progress.

3. Venue

The Revival Centre will soon no longer be available for meetings. We need to find alternative venue for our monthly meetings. Revival will be moving premises and there may be some longer term possibilities for SSC with their new arrangements. PW will keep us informed.


Meeting closed at 1.10 pm

Conference: Co-operation and Higher Education, April 26th, Lincoln.

Click here for more recent information about our conference.

The Social Science Centre will be hosting a conference on the theme of ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’, April 26th, 10.30-4.30pm, at The Collection, Lincoln’s museum and art gallery.

Below, is an outline of how we anticipate the conference being structured and we welcome suggestions relating to the content of the day. We hope the conference will provide time and space to focus on the desires, experiences, issues and possibilities for co-operative higher education. More details will follow nearer the time.

Although the conference is on Saturday, we encourage you to arrive on Friday evening if you wish, for pre-conference food and drinks.

Friday 25th April, 7pm onwards

Pre-conference food/drinks.  For anyone wishing to arrive the night before. Location to be determined. Donations to SSC to cover restaurant costs welcome.

Saturday 26th April

9-10.30am Early morning guided tour of Lincoln’s social and co-operative history for early/overnight delegates.

10.30-11am Arrival/registration

11-11.30. Welcome. Introductions.

11.30-12.30: First session

12.30-1pm: Lunch

1-2pm: Talk by invited speakers

2-2.40: Second session

2.40-3pm: Refreshments

3-3.40pm: Third session

3.40pm-4.30: Discussion/wind up.

If you wish to attend, please could you let us know by completing the form below. There is no registration cost, but donations to the SSC prior to the conference or on the day are welcome. Thank you.

Donate to the Social Science Centre

If you wish to donate to the SSC, you can do so via PayPal using the button below. Please email us if you would prefer to send a cheque or make a bank transfer.

“Science and Innovation” and the public university: a report from the field…

I attended an event yesterday in London which reinforced to me the importance of what we’re doing in the Social Science Centre and other alternative education projects around the country. The event was the annual “Science and Innovation Conference” which brings together delegates from STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) disciplines and industries to discuss research and development.

The usual array of the great and the good were present on the speakers list, including universities, government ministers, scientific advisers, ex-MPs, and big defence and energy industry representatives – BAE systems sponsored the event and BP were present filming a promotional video for their staff (which incidentally I now feature in as an audience member – maybe I should request a copy under freedom of information?!). The demographic reflected among the speakers was, with very few exceptions, white, male, middle-aged. The atmosphere in one of the sessions was thick with testosterone, with “ex-industry guys” talking about pushing projects out the gate “hard and fast”, and “killing” what doesn’t work. One notable exception was an excellent presentation from a Sheffield-based project (Big Energy Upgrade) which showcased joint work between the University, a housing association, a private energy company and local councils to retrofit a local council housing estate to make homes more energy efficient.

Despite the almost unprecedented levels of funding cuts in HE and wider society happening right now in the name of austerity, the atmosphere was generally one of self-congratulatory back-slapping over the “great deal for science” in the last budget. The fact that the research budget has been ring-fenced in cash terms was cause for guarded celebration it seems. No mention was made of the teaching budget being slashed, nor of the HE fee rises.

Although universities and higher education were a key part of the agenda, there was no discussion of the “public university“. Of course that wasn’t the focus of the conference, but there seemed a tacit acceptance among all involved that universities were there simply to “serve the needs of industry” – and in particular industries which work in “strategic sectors” of the economy, namely health, defence and energy. There was no critique whatsoever of current government policies – indeed, ex-Labour MP Ian Pearson, a member of the so-called “opposition”, expressed “sympathy” toward a Conservative MP on the panel and in general thought the government had done a “fairly good job” over the last year.

At one point a member of the audience raised the issue of the place of social sciences in the STEM world. The response was that social sciences have a “key” role to play, but the discussion of this was limited to “convincing the public” about some technological innovation and/or “behaviour change”. As Terry Wassall pointed out to me on Twitter, if the social sciences are so “key”, then why was teaching funding for these subjects virtually withdrawn?

In a way none of this is surprising, but it’s worth occasionally reminding ourselves of the reality of our situation and how we can go beyond it. I think it’s really important that we and other groups are presenting an alternative to this view of higher education and society, which sees economic growth and industry as central, and all else serving these goals.