Lincoln University Students’ Union Co-operative Ltd

I was looking through some books recently and the flyer photographed below was used as a bookmark by my Dad, when he was a student at the University of Lincoln in the early 2000s.

I knew that Lincoln’s Student Union was once a co-operative, but had never seen any documentary evidence of that period in its history. When I’ve asked people about the early history of the Union, the response has been vague – I may be asking the wrong people.

I was told it was set up as a co-op to meet the obligations of funding between Lincolnshire Co-operative Society and the University during its formation. If you look at the third image below, you can see that a student joined the LSU co-op through the Lincoln(shire?) Co-operative Society – presumably the SU was part of the Lincolnshire Co-operative Society?? It was also suggested to me that it ceased to be a co-op because of changes in charity law in 2006 that caused a conflict between its charitable and co-operative status. Co-operatives are not deemed charities because they are for the benefit of their members, rather than having broader public benefit aims.

Looking at Companies House records, the SU was first incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee on 27th June 2007 and referred to as ‘the Charity’, so not long after the change in Charity law in 2006. A note in 2009 explains that it originally derived its charitable status from the University but again due to changes in law, would have to register in its own right as a charity. The articles of association were then changed in 2010, when all reference to ‘the Charity’ is replaced with ‘the Union’ and it became independently registered as a charity on 27th September 2010, apart from its registration as a company.

Anyway, my interest is in the early days of the SU when it ran as a co-operative. All organisations are subject to changes in law and regulation and I’m sure that the shift away from co-operative status in 2007 was deemed the right and possibly the only choice available to the SU. It raises the question about whether more recent changes in UK co-operative law (2014) and the emergence of Union Co-ops, offers a return to co-operative status. Aside from legal status, a co-operative is characterised by its adherence to the values and principles of the international Co-operative Identity Statement.

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

Changes in the articles of association could be made to reflect the spirit of co-operative values and principles, even if it were not a co-operative in law. As a democratic organisation, this would be something for its members to decide upon.

If you have any further information about the period when ULSU was a co-op, please do get in touch.


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 and £45 concessions. More details are available on the College’s website.

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.