The Co-operative University: Labour, property and pedagogy

My paper for the conference, Governing Academic Life is available for download and I welcome comments here or via email. Thank you.

Abstract

We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)

Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co- operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In most cases the assets (the ‘means of production’) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public.

I begin this paper by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and discuss its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of ‘Student as Producer’.

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