Co-operative university ’roundtable’ at the Co-operative College

Last week, I attended a ’roundtable’ event at the Co-operative College that focused on co-operative higher education. The Agenda was as follows:

Dan Cook, author of Realising the Co-operative University (2013) has written up some notes of the meeting which you can read on his blog.  There is still much work to do but last week’s event felt like an important milestone.

When we set up the Social Science Centre in 2011, we anticipated that the removal of direct public funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences would result in job losses and the increasing precarity of academic labour. In addition to opposing the rationale behind these moves, we predicted a need for academics and students to co-operate and create new institutional forms of higher education for the production of knowledge. Stories from colleagues attending last week’s meeting suggests that this is now happening and that worker co-ops of academics and social co-ops formed by academics, students and local authorities are in the process of being established.

The desire for co-operative values and principles in higher education doesn’t just have to result in the creation of ‘alternative providers’ in the sector; these values and principles could reinvigorate democratic processes within existing universities, too. This is what we are focusing on in our current LFHE-funded project by studying how leadership, management and governance actually work in four case study organisations. Mike Neary and I will be presenting on this work at the Co-operative Education conference in April.

A ‘co-operative mutual fund of communal interest’ for student finance?

One of the significant issues that our research into co-operative higher education has understandably raised is the extent to which it would be (must be?) regulated by the legislative framework for higher education in the UK. Depending on how you view it, one of the ‘benefits’ of working within the regulatory environment is that students are able to apply for loans. However, many participants in the research said they would prefer to find an alternative method of funding co-operative higher education based on the idea of ‘common ownership’, ‘commonwealth’ and mutualism.

At our meeting with lawyers to discuss the HE and Research Bill, we noted that the Bill includes the provision to introduce a method of ‘Alternative Payments’ (sections 78-79). The House of Commons Briefing Paper (pp.39-40) is perhaps the best summary of what is included on this matter in the Bill. What it amounts to is an alternative fund specifically set up to be Sharia-compliant, managed by the Student Loans Company, acting as agents on behalf of the fund.

The idea of a Sharia-compliant form of student finance was put out to consultation by the government in 2014 because they recognised that “student loans issued after September 2012 bear a real rate of interest above inflation and concerns have been raised that some religious groups, particularly Muslims, may feel that the charging of such an interest rate is incompatible with their beliefs.” Following the consultation, the government settled on the proposal of a ‘Takaful fund’. Here’s how they describe it. It’s worth quoting in full:

“The suggested Alternative Finance model’s underlying principle is one of communal interest and transparent sharing of benefit and obligation, with the repayments of students participating in the fund being used to provide finance to future students who select to join the fund. This ensures that all members of the fund benefit equally from it…

… The finance product the Government identified is based on the ‘Takaful’ structure used in Islamic finance to allow groups of people to cooperate to provide mutual finance assistance to members of the group. This type of mutual fund model is familiar to Sharia scholars and many UK Muslim families, who use a similar concept to raise funds between cooperating relatives.

Students participating in the fund would not be borrowing money and paying it back with interest to a third party, which would not be compliant with Sharia law. Instead, the Takaful fund will be established with an initial amount of money that can be donated to the fund or on the basis of Qard Hasan (interest-free loan) and based on a concept of mutual participation and guarantee.

Students will obtain finance from the fund by applying in a similar manner to the conventional loan. The contract will be based upon a unilateral promise guaranteeing that they will repay a Takaful contribution – which is perceived as a charitable contribution from a Sharia perspective for the benefit of the members of the fund. Monies will be released once the contract is signed. Repayment will be made to the fund once they are in employment and earning above the repayment threshold, which would be set at the same level as for traditional student loans.

The contribution paid back into the fund by the student would help future students benefit from the fund, allowing them to complete their studies as the original student did. The mutual basis of this structure, with members (borrowers) of the fund helping each other to attend higher education, would make this model acceptable under Sharia-law. This is because the lending/borrowing relationship which results in a payment of interest by the students to the Student Loans Company does not exist in this model.

The student finance fund, i.e. the Takaful fund, would be managed by a fund manager (in this case the Student Loans Company under the Islamic finance principle of Wakala (agency) for a specified fee. The fund would be completely segregated from the traditional student loans to ensure full compliance with Sharia in the whole cycle of the fund.”

Although the principle driver behind this new alternative fund is to accommodate Muslim students, the way it is then translated into the White Paper and eventual HE&R Bill is stripped of any reference to being Sharia-compliant because it is the values and principles on which the fund is established and operates, rather than specific religious beliefs that will define it, hence why it’s referred to as ‘Alternative Finance’ and not ‘Sharia-compliant Finance’.

Those principles, according to Wikipedia are the following:

  • Policyholders cooperate among themselves for their common good.

  • Policyholders contributions are considered as donations to the fund (pool)

  • Every policyholder pays his subscription to help those who need assistance.

  • Losses are divided and liabilities spread according to the community pooling system.

  • Uncertainty is eliminated concerning subscription and compensation.

  • It does not derive advantage at the cost of others.

“Theoretically, takaful is perceived as cooperative or mutual insurance, where members contribute a certain sum of money to a common pool. The purpose of this system is not profits, but to uphold the principle of “bear ye one another’s burden”.”

The Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance state that:

“takaful is founded on the cooperative principle and on the principle of separation between the funds and operations of shareholders, thus passing the ownership of the Takaful (Insurance) fund and operations to the policyholders. Muslim jurists conclude that insurance in Islam should be based on principles of mutuality and co-operation, encompassing the elements of shared responsibility, joint indemnity, common interest and solidarity.”

As the government describe in their report on the initial consultation, this is a co-operative mutual fund of communal interest, and as described in the HE White Paper (pp.59-60), the fund will be open to anyone and result in exactly the same payments as the existing loan system, albeit established on different principles:

“To ensure participation and choice are open to everyone, we will introduce an alternative student finance product for the first time. This will be open to everyone and will not result in any advantage or disadvantage relative to a student loan, but will avoid the payment of interest, which is inconsistent with the principles of Islamic finance. We plan to legislate for the Secretary of State to offer an alternative student finance product alongside his current powers to offer grants and loans.”

Illustration from the government's consultation response document.
Illustration from the government’s consultation response document.

The Equality Analysis of the HE&R Bill (p.36), also recognises that while it is principally of interest to Muslim students, “No particular group of students should be worse off as a result of the policy”, likewise underlining the fact that this ‘alternative product’ may appeal to anyone.

“Overall, the policy addresses a potential barrier to entry faced by some potential students, and should lead to an increase in higher education participation. No particular group of students should be worse off as a result of the policy, and the most significant gains will be felt by Muslim students.”

The interesting question this raises for me is to what extent will the co-operative movement ‘endorse’ this form of State-funded method of student finance, given the 4th principle of ‘autonomy and independence’ (usually meaning from the State)? How compatible is it with established co-operative principles of mutualism? I see that the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF) promote Takaful insurance using the .coop domain name. This suggests that existing Takaful funds are recognised as operating according to the Co-operative movement’s values and principles. The question remains to what extent the new government fund will actually be a ‘co-operative pool’ for the ‘common good’ of its ‘members’? On the face of it, if I were a student deciding which form of State finance to apply for, I would choose the ‘Alternative Finance’ and become a member of the ‘communal pool’, if only because it sounds more ethical.

Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

Reblogged from Richard Hall’s website:

Working with 20 co-authors, Joss Winn and I have just submitted the manuscript for Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. The edited collection forms part of Bloomsbury Academic’s series on Perspectives on Leadership in Higher Education. Assuming that the review process goes to plan, the book is slated for publication in early 2017.

The original summary, description and key features of the book are noted below. The proposed table of contents is appended thereafter.

Summary

Drawing on the activism of academics and students working in, against and beyond the neo-liberal university, this book critiques academic leadership through the concept of mass intellectuality, with an analysis of the crisis of higher education and the alternative forms that are emerging from its ruins.

Description

Higher education is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What and who have led us to this crisis? What are the alternatives? To whom do we look for leadership in revealing those alternatives?

This book brings together critical analyses of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and documents on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising higher education and the production of knowledge. Its authors offer their experience and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream higher education, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives. In the process the volume asks is it possible to re-imagine the University democratically and co-operatively? If so, what are the implications for leadership not just within the University but also in terms of higher education’s relationship to society?

The authors argue that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of global society. An alternative role and purpose is required, based upon ‘mass intellectuality’ or the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge.

Key features

  1. The book critiques the role of higher education and the University as an institution for developing solutions to global crises that are economic and socio-environmental. In this way it offers an analysis of the idea that there is no alternative for higher education but to contribute to neoliberal agendas for economic growth and the marketisation of everyday life. The restrictions on the socio-cultural leadership that emerge inside the University are revealed.
  2. The book describes and analyses concrete, alternative forms of higher education that have emerged from worker-student occupations, from academic engagements in civil society, and from the co-operatives movement. These projects highlight a set of co-operative possibilities for demonstrating and negotiating new forms of political leadership related to higher learning that are against the neo-liberal university.
  3. The book argues that the emergence of alternative forms of higher education, based on co-operative organising principles, points both to the failure of intellectual leadership inside the University and to the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. The concept of ‘Mass Intellectuality’ as a form of social knowledge that is beyond the limitations of intellectual leadership inside the University is critically developed in order to frame socially-useful responses to the crisis.

Contents

Introduction

  1. Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education ~ Richard Hall and Joss Winn

Section One: Power, History and Authority

  1. Pedagogical Labour in an Age of Devalued Reproduction ~ Stevphen Shukaitis
  2. Co-operation, leadership and learning: Fred Hall and the Co-operative College before 1939 ~ Tom Woodin
  3. Academic Voices: from Public Intellectuals to the General Intellect ~ Mike Neary
  4. Openness, Politics and Power ~ Martin Paul Eve

Section Two: Potentialities

  1. The (im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality through the lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement ~ Joyce E Canaan
  2. Still spaces in the academy? The dialectic of university social movement pedagogy ~ Eurig Scandrett
  3. Bradford’s Community University: From ‘Constellations of Knowledge’ to Liberating the ‘General Intellect’? ~ Jenny Pearce
  4. Aesthetic Education, Critical Pedagogy and Specialist Institutions ~ Jonathan Owen Clark and Louise H. Jackson

Section Three: Praxis

  1. Six Theses In, Against and Beyond the University ~ Birmingham Autonomous University
  2. Reconciling mass intellectuality and higher education: lessons from the PPE experience ~ Joel Lazarus
  3. Somewhere Between Reform and Revolution: Alternative Higher Education and ‘The Unfinished’ ~ Gary Saunders
  4. Permaculture education as ecology of mind: the head, hands and heart of transformation ~ Tom Henfrey
  5. Mass Intellectuality from the Margins ~ Sara C. Motta

Conclusion: Politics, Aesthetics and Democracy

  1. Practicing What We Preach? Writing and Publishing In, Against and Beyond the Neoliberal University ~ Gordon Asher

Symphony of voices

A scene from Wings of Desire (1987) by Wim Wenders.

“The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones.”

[00:00:00 – 00:04:49 No subtitles]

[00:04:50 Old Man stops on stairs] “Tell me, muse, the storyteller…he who has been thrust to the edge of the world…both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal Everyman. [continues walking]

With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but apart…and one doesn’t know anything about the other. [sits down]

I’m an old man, with a broken voice…but the story still rises from the depths… and the slowly opened mouth…repeats it as clearly as it does powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated… to the meaning of the words and sentences.”

What we leave behind


Book coverMy dad, Nigel Winn, died quite suddenly of cancer in 2006 aged 56. Since his death I have been meaning to collect his writing and publish a selection of his poetry. It’s taken me ten years to make time for this, in between having a daughter, getting married, building a house, chasing and holding onto employment and also trying to come to terms with the loss, too.

Dad left behind a collection of poems, a short play and other pieces of writing. He was a bricklayer and carpenter most of his life but started writing actively during the period 1996-2006. During that time, he studied for a BA in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, where he gained a First Class degree. He went on to teach at the university, and was popular among students. Following his death, colleagues established the annual Nigel Winn Memorial Prize for Creative Writing.

His work is quite autobiographical and therefore especially meaningful to those who were close to him. I used Lulu to self-publish this selection of his poetry. It’s very satisfying for me and my family to have a physical copy of his published work and I think that people who knew Nigel may like to purchase a hardback copy of the book, too. It is priced £8.93 + postage which is the lowest price available to me. I make £0.06p on every copy sold because Lulu won’t allow me to reduce the author’s profit to £0 for some reason. A PDF proof of the book can be downloaded here. Thank you for reading it. He was a really good man.

Nigel Winn
Nigel Winn, Sutton-on-Sea, 2005.

Learning to listen

For the past six months, I have been learning to play the (classical) guitar. I played electric guitar for a couple of years when I was a teenager and have tried to return to playing a few times since then. This time, I have the benefit of a superb teacher who has reminded me (now from the point of view of being a student), how inspiring and encouraging a teacher can be who still finds enjoyment in what they teach and wants to pass that excitement and curiosity onto others. I am approaching it as an education in music, with the guitar being the instrument through which I hopefully come to understand and appreciate music more fully. It seems to be working.

I am not studying towards particular music grades, but it is interesting to see what pieces of music are aligned with each grade. The piece below is one of the select few to be included in the syllabus/repertoire for Trinity’s Performance Diploma. It is for the Fellowship level (FTCL), “equivalent in standard to a postgraduate course at a conservatoire or university.” I really like a number of pieces on the FTCL list, but Sonata for Guitar, Op. 47 (1976) by Alberto Ginastera, stands out as a current favourite. The video below is interesting because it shows the complexity of the score as the music is being played. I may never be able to play something as difficult as this, but that’s not really the point. I’m learning to listen as well as play and compose, and that has already opened up a new world to me.