Do It Ourselves Higher Education

The ‘Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education‘ project, funded by the Leadership for Higher Education (LFHE), is now formally over. Mike Neary (PI) submitted the final report to the LFHE yesterday and we expect it to be published in the coming months. Throughout the research, we have been greatly assisted by Katia Venezuela Fuentes, who recently completed her PhD. Congratulations, Katia!

The final report for the project is based on our conference paper, ‘Co-operative leadership and higher education: four case studies‘, which we presented at the Co-operative Education and Research conference in April.

We have also created a short guide to ‘Do It Ourselves Higher Education‘. This draws together a collection of resources, both conceptual and practical, that offer a huge amount of advice and guidance for those interested in the development and implementation of co-operative higher education.

We are regularly contacted by academics who are looking for a real alternative to the existing model of higher education and welcome the opportunity to talk about what we have learned during this project and our earlier work. We are particularly interested in putting ideas into practice and working through the actual challenges of the conversion, dissolution or creation routes to co-operative higher education.

Making the Co-operative University conference

The Co-operative University Working Group are hosting a conference in Manchester on 9th November to focus on ‘making the co-operative university: new places, spaces and models of higher education‘.

The aim of the day is to network with like-minded and interested individuals and organisations through active learning and discussion.

It is a one day conference which will take place at Federation House in Manchester on 9th November 2017 with tickets priced at £95 (inc VAT). More details will be published on the Co-operative College’s website soon.

Join us and share your thoughts on what a Co-operative University should look like!

Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Co-operative Higher Education

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

Mike Neary and I have a new journal article out in the Open Library of the Humanities. It is a longer companion piece to our article in LATISS. The research was funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation

Here’s the abstract:

Universities in the UK are increasingly adopting corporate governance structures, a consumerist model of teaching and learning, and have the most expensive tuition fees in the world (McGettigan, 2013; OECD, 2015). This paper discusses collaborative research that aimed to develop and define a conceptual framework of knowledge production grounded in co-operative values and principles. The main findings are outlined relating to the key themes of our research: knowledge, democracy, bureaucracy, livelihood, and solidarity. We consider how these five ‘catalytic principles’ relate to three identified routes to co-operative higher education (conversion, dissolution, or creation) and argue that such work must be grounded in an adequate critique of labour and property i.e. the capital relation. We identify both the possible opportunities that the latest higher education reform in the UK affords the co-operative movement as well as the issues that arise from a more marketised and financialised approach to the production of knowledge (HEFCE, 2015). Finally, we suggest ways that the co-operative movement might respond with democratic alternatives that go beyond the distinction of public and private education.

Read the article online or download from OLH.

The Higher Education and Research Act (2017) and Co-operative HE

If you read this blog for information about co-operative higher education, you may know that the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) has recently been enacted but there is still much to speculate on in relation to holding Degree Awarding Powers and University title. Two different slants on it all are quoted below:

The Convention for Higher Education have represented academic activists throughout the development and debate around the earlier Bill:

University title. The HE Bill said very little about what a university was for, what a new provider would need to do to qualify, etc. As a result of the ‘wash-up’ there will now be a full consultation on the definition of a university, following which the Secretary of State will issue guidance to Office for Students (OfS) on criteria for the award of university titles. The consultation must include consideration of university functions set out in legislation in other territories, as well as factors including teaching, research, strength of academic community, learning infrastructure, infrastructure, pastoral care and knowledge exchange.

There is a real opportunity to campaign to insist on a robust definition of University autonomy and a mission to defend Academic Freedom being written into University titles. This campaign should include citation of the Scottish HE Governance Act, which among other things stipulates that the chair of the Governing body must be elected.

Degree Awarding Powers. Degree Awarding Powers can only be granted, revoked or varied following advice by a designated independent quality body that the institution meets an appropriate standard. If no designated quality body exists, the OfS must set up an independent specific committee with a majority of members with no previous involvement with the OfS. There will be an automatic review of Degree Awarding Powers if there is a change of ownership or a merger at a University.

Again, there is an opportunity to campaign here to ensure that Degree Awarding Powers are only given to independent universities with provision for independent oversight, including but not limited to an independent academic culture and external examination.

For a fuller account, read the whole post.

Dan Cook, author of Realising the Co-operative University (2013) has just posted his assessment of the Act in terms of what it means for the development of co-operative higher education and more specifically, a co-operative university:

What is not said is as important as what is said. There is no mention of precise conditions under which an institution may or may not be granted the power to award degrees or use the title “University” so the OfS will presumably have considerable latitude to establish conditions appropriate to the authorisation of “a registered higher education provider to grant taught awards or research awards or both.” This power will be exercised under a Statutory Instrument. This is an area to watch closely for signs of the emerging practice for authorising degree awarding powers to new entrants. The power for one provider to authorise another to be able to utilise its degree awarding powers is also controlled by the Act, and time-limits may also be set for awarding powers.

The scene is set for a diverse range of HE providers to be recognised, and regulated in a risk-based way, that explicitly recognises differences in size and mission. Barriers to entry are thus lowered for new entrants to enter the HE market, and the consumer interests of students are protected separately to the success or failure of the institution at which they study.

It would even be possible, in time, for cooperative higher education to develop a distinctive set of principles that could be recognised by the regulator as having validity within a “certain” “description” of providers: Cooperative Higher Education Providers.

Again, for a fuller account, read the whole post.

As our research showed, there are different aspirations for and routes to co-operative higher education and working within the new regulatory framework is important for many people so as to have access to funding, degree awarding powers, university title and the ‘legitimacy’ that comes with all of this.

We know that co-operative schools struggle to maintain their co-operative values and principles within the regulatory environment imposed on them and it is likely to be the same for co-operative HEIs, too. The extent that it is possible to subvert and manipulate an administrative environment set within a regulatory framework that is itself a legal expression of the commodity-form (cf. Pashukanis; Mieville) is not simply answered in the positive or the negative, but worked out in the dialectical process of struggling with and through these issues. Despite two different takes on the HERA from Dan Cook and the Convention for HE, both show that it is less a question of being for or against the Act but rather how we respond and use it to overcome the logic upon which it is based. Historically, co-operatives have emerged at such points and demonstrate that the divide between public and private, between the power of the state and the power of money, are not the only choices we have.

The University of Mondragon was set up under similar conditions, when changes in Spanish law during the 1990s made it possible for the creation of a secondary co-operative university that awards degrees on behalf of autonomous, discipline-based Faculty co-operatives, each of which adhere to a set of co-operative principles where capital is subordinate to the sovereignty of labour. The conditions in England and Wales are not the same as the Basque region of Northern Spain, but this example does offer an alternative way to approach the situation we find ourselves in.

Co-operative Leadership and Higher Education: four case studies

Mike Neary, Katia Valenzuela Fuentes and I presented the following paper at The Co-operative Education and Research Conference, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester. A link to download the paper is below the abstract. It is the first report from our Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education project, funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

This paper reports on recent research into co-operative leadership which aims to support co-operative higher education; where co-operative education is understood as the connection between the co-operative movement and co-operative learning (Breeze 2011). The research was carried out in three co-operatives: a co-operative school, a co-operative university, a workers’ co-operative, and an employee owned retail business. The research is framed within a set of catalytic principles established in previous research (Neary and Winn 2016): knowledge, democracy, bureaucracy, livelihood and solidarity. The results have been developed as a diagnostic tool for academics, other staff and students in higher education institutions to assess the extent to which they are already operating in co-operative manner and how these co-operative practices might be further developed. The ultimate aim of these activities is to establish a cooperative university. The research is funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

Download the paper.

There is an alternative: A report on an action research project to develop a framework for co-operative higher education

Mike Neary and I have had an article published in Learning and Teaching. The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences.

The article is the first of two publications arising from our ISRF-funded project (2015-16):  Beyond public and private: A model for co-operative higher education. A longer article is currently under review. An earlier combined version of both articles was presented at conferences last year.

This report provides an interim account of a participatory action research project undertaken during 2015–16. The research brought together scholars, students and expert members of the co-operative movement to design a theoretically informed and practically grounded framework for co-operative higher education that activists, educators and the co-operative movement could take forward into implementation. Our dual roles in the research were as founding members of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, an autonomous co-operative for higher education constituted in 2011 (Social Science Centre 2013), and as professional researchers working at the University of Lincoln. The immediate context for the research was, and remains, the ‘assault’ on universities in the U.K. (Bailey and Freedman 2011), the ‘gamble’ being taken with the future of higher education (McGettigan 2013), and the ‘pedagogy of debt’ (Williams 2006) that has been imposed through the removal of public funding of teaching and the concurrent tripling of tuition fees (Sutton Trust 2016).

University repository record.

Social co-operatives and the democratisation of higher education

Richard Hall and I presented the following paper at The Co-operative Education and Research Conference, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester. A link to download the paper is below the abstract. It is a version of our Introduction to the forthcoming book, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education.

This paper develops a critical analysis of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and identifies on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising HE and the production of knowledge. It offers the potential for developing an alternative conception of the role and purpose of HE that is rooted in the idea of ‘mass intellectuality’. This takes experiences and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream HE, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives.

In the process the authors ask if it is 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 an alternative role and purpose is required, based upon the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. Thus, the paper concludes with a critical-practical response grounded in the form of ‘co-operative higher education’. This rests on the assertion that ‘social co-operatives’ offer an organizational form that values democratic participation and decision-making and would constitute the university as a social form of mass intellectuality re-appropriated by the producers of knowledge.

Download the paper.

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.

Review: Co-operation, learning and co-operative values

I have written a short review for the Journal of Education Policy of Co-operation, learning and co-operative values, edited by Tom Woodin. Here are the opening couple of paragraphs:

As Tom Woodin points out in his Introduction to the book, Cooperation, Learning and Cooperative Values, the Rochdale Pioneers of the nineteenth century Co-operative movement aspired to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’. The original seven ‘Rochdale Principles’, internationally endorsed in 1937, included the ‘Promotion of Education’ alongside other principles such as ‘Democratic Control’, ‘Political and Religious Neutrality’ and ‘Open Membership’. Those original Principles were revised in 1966, and included the ‘Education of members and public in co-operative principles’. In 1995, following international consultation within the co-operative movement, the current Principles were revised, and Principle Five was restated as ‘Education, training and information’. I have begun this brief review by emphasising the historical centrality of education to the co-operative movement, which today has over one billion members, because it is important to recognise how the principle of education has been formally retained over the course of one and a half centuries to both support and promote the whole body of values and principles of co-operatives and their members.

Today, in most countries, a ‘co-operative’ is likely to be recognised as a legal entity and have to demonstrate that it is constituted according to the values and principles of the 1995 ‘Co-operative Identity’ statement (ICA 2016. That is to say, a ‘co-operative’, being ‘co-operative’ and extending ‘co-operation’ to others has a carefully defined meaning that should not simply be mistaken for a type of ‘collaboration’ or even ‘co-operation’ in the sense that Marx understood it as constituting ‘the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production’. (Marx 1976). In effect, the co-operative movement has developed and retains a highly sophisticated understanding of co-operation as a set of practical and ethical values that are put into practice through seven principles that still aim to ‘re-arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government’.

Tom Woodin, an expert on the history of co-operative education, has produced an excellent edited collection of contributed chapters that span the theory, history, practice and policy implications of co-operative education. Over 13 chapters, the authors cover a great deal of ground and for readers who are looking for a broad, informed and critical introduction to co-operative education, there is currently no better place to start.

Read more…

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.