Co-operative higher education conference paper and poster

Mike Neary and I presented a conference paper today at the Co-operative Education conference. You can find it on this page.

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.

Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education

Mike Neary and I have been awarded funding by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to focus on ‘co-operative leadership’ in the higher education context. Below is the introductory section of our research proposal. You can read the rest on Mike’s blog. Here’s a link to the project blog.

The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of establishing co-operative leadership as a viable organisational form of governance and management for Higher Education. Co-operative leadership is already well established in business enterprises in the UK and around the world (Ridley-Duff and Bull 2016), and has recently been adopted as the organising principle by over 800 schools in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2014). The co-operative movement is a global phenomenon with one billion members, supported by national and international organisations working to establish co-operative enterprises and the promotion of cooperative education. The research is financed by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s small development projects fund.

Higher education in the UK is characterised by a mode of governance based on Vice-Chancellors operating as Chief Executives supported by Senior Management teams.  Recent research from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on Neo-collegiality in the managerial university (Bacon 2014) shows that hierarchical models of governance alienate and de-motivate staff, failing to take advantage of research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels,  not accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.

The co-operative leadership model for higher education supports the ambition for more active engagement in decision-making to facilitate the best use of academics’ professional capacities, but framed around a more radical model for leadership, governance and management. Members of the co-operative university would not only be involved directly in decision-making and peer-based processes that make best use of their collective skills, but have equal voting rights as well as collective ownership of the assets and liabilities of the co-operative (Cook 2013). This more radical model builds on work done recently as part of a project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) to establish some general parameters around which a framework for co-operative higher education could be established (Neary and Winn 2015). One of the key issues emerging from this research is the significance of co-operative leadership – the focus of this research project.

How can universities be transformed so that they center on public goods in teaching, research, and community engagement?

Mike Neary and I will be speaking in June as part of a theme on ‘How can universities be transformed…’ at the UNIKE conference in Copenhagen. We will be discussing our recent research project on co-operative higher education and contributing to the overall  discussion on the public and community purposes of universities. Below is the overall conference strand description. 

Within higher education, values such as democracy, solidarity, public good and community benefit are increasingly overshadowed by systems of management based on Taylorism and hierarchical control. The session explores these trends and draws on participants’ practical experiences, lessons learnt, and best practices to suggest alternative organizational forms. The session aims to use these experiences to promote both discussion and first steps in developing an audit tool to use to evaluate universities and hold them accountable for their promotion of public goods. Finally, participants will identify some alternative pathways to address the decline of public goods in universities: reform of existing institutions, creation of new institutions, etc.

The group will organise a workshop in which participants will brainstorm the principles, issues, approaches (democracy, social justice, pedagogy, ownership, financing, governance) in groups to address the identified problems, moving forward.

Conference programme (PDF)

Students for Co-operation Winter Conference

Students are increasingly organising themselves around co-operative values and principles, providing goods, services and housing to their members. There are a growing number of student housing co-ops (in Sheffield, Birmingham, Edinburgh…), an emerging national body of student housing co-operatives, a national federation of student co-ops, and a new network of young co-operators led by AltGen, an organisation that supports young people to set up their own worker co-operatives.

Highlights from Young Co-operators Weekend in Bradford from Blake House on Vimeo.

Students for Co-operation are holding their national winter conference at the University of East Anglia, February 12-14th, and I will be attending again to jointly run a workshop on co-operative higher education. Mike Neary and I attended a national meeting last June to run a workshop on co-operative higher education at the start of our ISRF-funded research project. Now approaching the end of the project and having run five more workshops on different themes relating to co-operative higher education since then, it will be good to return and discuss some of our findings.

SfC Conf Agenda
Click to enlarge

Update on ‘Beyond public and private’ research project

With the exception of a few thoughts on an unexpected and emotional encounter, I have not had much to add to this blog since completing my PhD. However, as always, work continues and is being reported on the Social Science Centre website, where Mike Neary and I post about the progress of our ISRF-funded research project: ‘Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education‘.

You’ll see from the updates on the SSC website that we are over half way into the project, having completed three of the five planned workshops and focus groups: Pedagogy, Governance, and Legal frameworks. We are also interviewing individuals regularly and almost 80 people (students, academics, ‘co-operators’, and others) have joined our project mailing list, which clearly has the potential to become a formal research network into co-operative forms of higher education. We are meeting many really interesting and experienced educators, researchers and activists through this project, which, as we reported from the first workshop, is developing around three inter-related concerns for co-operative higher education:

1. The Social historical movement: A co-operative form of higher learning conscious of its connection to and engagement with the historical and logical development of the co-operative movement.

2. The Organisation: The institutional form of the co-operative will substantiate the political, moral and ethical values of the co-operative movement, set within an educational context.

3. The Praxis: The pedagogy will be grounded in the practices and principles of co-operative learning, recognising that much can be learned about how to be a co-operator-student/teacher (i.e. ‘scholar’), while at the same time acknowledging that co-operative practices are already endemic in radical social interactions.

Each of the workshop themes can be ‘mapped’ on to one or more of these three higher level components of the ‘model’.

I am also thinking of how other concepts might express or expand on the five themes. For example:

Pedagogy = Knowledge
Governance = Democracy
Legal = Bureaucracy
Business Models = Livelihood*
Trans-national = Solidarity

*This is a word that came out of a discussion on how we want to move away from the use of some conventional terms, such as ‘business model’, that do not adequately capture the essence of our concerns. In a world where business and work is continually in crisis, a ‘business model’ seems increasingly anachronistic to what is fundamentally required.

Our project aims to develop a ‘model’ for co-operative higher education, or perhaps a ‘framework’ is a better word to use. Nevertheless, models and frameworks are forms of useful abstractions and at this stage of our work, sketching out relational themes, concepts and approaches is a necessary and useful exercise. This has been evident in the way that the categorisation of ‘routes’ to co-operative higher education that I outlined in my earlier paper have been a useful reference during each of the workshops:

Conversion: How to convert an existing university into a co-operative, either through a planned ‘executive’ decision or out of necessity, as in a worker takeover of a failing institution. In the UK, this route would seek to maintain any remaining public sources of funding and the ‘university’ title.

Dissolution: How to create a co-operative university from the ‘inside out’, through the gradual increase of co-operative practices, such as co-operatively run research groups and departments; programmes of study in aspects of co-operation, social history, political economy, etc.; the conversion of student halls into housing co-ops; changes to procurement practices that favour co-operatives, and so on. Through this route, the university might eventually become a ‘co-op of co-ops’.

Creation: How to create a new co-operative form of higher education. This tends to be where our workshop discussions end up. It is the least compromising of each of the routes and in some ways the most ambitious. Discussions of this route are intensely practical in their focus and unashamedly utopian, too. This route draws inspiration from the huge numbers of actually existing worker and social solidarity co-ops around the world.

So, in summary what might we have with all of this?

Three routes to co-operative higher education: Conversion, dissolution, creation

Three concerns for the overall project (regardless of route): The social historical movement, the organisation, the praxis.

Five themes for practical and theoretical work (an anti-curricula or course of action): Knowledge, democracy, bureaucracy, livelihood, solidarity.

Mike Neary and I will shortly be writing up an interim report on the project at the request of the LATISS open access journal and will attempt to summarise all of this for the benefit of our own thinking and that of all the research participants.

If you would like to contribute in some way to the project, we have two more workshops (Nov 20th, Jan 29th), each followed by an online focus group, and we’d be happy to interview you too. We will also be issuing a survey in February which will be a last ditch attempt to gather data before we analyse it and write it up in the Spring.

Complete archive of Marx and Engels’ papers now online

Hand written fragment of the original Communist Manifesto (click to download archival PDF)
Hand written fragment of the original Communist Manifesto (click to download archival PDF)

As from today, the papers of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels can be viewed free of charge and in their entirety through the catalogue website of the International of Social History.

The writings of Marx and Engels are among the most influential in world history. In the twentieth century much of the world was ruled by regimes claiming to be Marxist, and the writings of Marx and Engels continue to play an important role in thinking on capitalism, labour, economic crises and revolutions. The Manifest der kommunistischen Partei has been translated into almost every language.

Many people would regard it as a historical sensation to be able to see the original documents, though you have to be particularly determined if you really want to read them: Marx’s handwriting in particular is virtually illegible.

The digitized documents can be browsed and each item viewed in full-screen mode. All the documents can be downloaded as a PDF file and printed. Go to for more information.”

Direct link to online catalogue of Marx-Engels papers.


Marx documents inscribed on UNESCO Register

Marx-Engels papers completely available online now

MEGA2 project to complete “a historical-critical edition of the complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels”.

As an Archivist for Amnesty International, I visited the impressive International Institute of Social History in the Netherlands, which holds the collections of many trade unions and NGOs, as well as revolutionary Marxists. The “particular focus” of the IISH is the “long term global shifts in labour relations”.

I wish I could read German…

The walk to work

Walking to work past the builder’s yard, towards the bridge
he beckons me over the sound of my headphones,
a tired looking man, probably younger than me
gestures ahead, gestures to the left, to the right
while asking the word “Spalding?”
He shows me a text message with the address
of a farm in the Fens and gestures again,
as if it should be the next town, to the left, to the right, or ahead.
I tell him that Spalding is a long day’s walk
or an hour by train and it takes a few seconds to sink in.
He looks defeated. He asks for £5 towards a train ticket.
I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk over the bridge together.

He pulls his passport out of a plastic bag inside his jacket and
a piece of paper that congratulates him on his eligibility to work here
and another with a list of jobs written in capital letters.
As we walk towards the station, George from Romania starts to cry.
He is lost, he is grateful, but I can’t take the gratitude of someone
who is cold and slept outside last night.
I put my hand on his shoulder to offer some reassurance
and act focused, briskly leading him to a temporary solution.

I buy him a return ticket in case Spalding doesn’t work out,
give him some cash,
find out when and where the next train will be
and all the while, George
who has been in this country for a month,
stands lost and waiting in the station while I criss cross past him
from ticket machine, to cash machine, to information desk.
More gratitude, his eyes tired and red with tears, I wish him luck and
put my hand on his shoulder but wish now I’d embraced him.
I leave him staring at the ticket and call my wife.
She cries on the phone and I am with her and George
as I walk, as I work, and as I return home.


From research student to academic: thinking about and preparing for academic work

At the request of students, I’m running a session at our doctoral study school next week on the ‘transition’ (that makes it sound smoother than it actually is) from doctoral student to an academic career. It’s allowed me to read a number of articles, reports and guides that are essentially talking about academic labour.

Below is some reading I’ve suggested to students and would recommend to anyone thinking about an academic career or giving advice to those thinking about such a career. In addition to discussing the readings, we will of course be talking about writing CVs, completing job applications, how to read a job description and preparing for interviews. In my session, I wanted to go beyond the standard ‘careers advice’ and ‘surgery’, and use research and the writings of academics to inform our understanding of academic life.

Personally, I find there’s a lot to like about the job, but the research and individual accounts show that increasingly it’s an intensive, extensive, and sometimes harmful career to pursue. I see and have felt that, too. Structurally, the trajectory of academic work and life will be very difficult to change, (although I’m working on it), but as the Hortensii group make clear, there are ways that we can be more generous and kind to doctoral students and to colleagues; especially to the many individuals already living insecure and highly mobile lives.

I have collected a lot more than this, so if you’re also faced with having to discuss or research this, get in touch and I’ll send you what I have.

Academic Labour and the Capitalist University: A critique of higher education through the law of value

PhD card

I passed my PhD viva yesterday. Below, is the Introduction to the Commentary, which I was required to defend along with the publications. The entire ‘thesis’ is available to download from the University of Lincoln’s institutional repository.

Thank you to my examiners, Siân AdiseshiahJoyce Canaan and Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, and to the viva Chair, Alec Shepley. Most of all, thank you to my colleague, friend and supervisor, Mike Neary.

I’ll write more soon about doing a ‘PhD by Published Work’.


This commentary provides an overview of a body of work that was published between 2009 and 2015. It summarises the significance of the contribution of that work and establishes its coherence both chronologically and thematically.

The work submitted for examination consists of ten items, with the key sole-authored components comprising a book chapter (Winn, 2012) and four peer-reviewed journal articles (Winn, 2013; 2014; 2015a; 2015b). Other, joint-authored work is intended to be supplementary and to provide further evidence of the two persistent themes of inquiry which my work has been concerned with over the last six years: the role and character of labour and property in higher education, or rather, ‘academic labour’ and the ‘academic commons’. Six of the ten publications discuss these themes through a critique of the role of technology in higher education, in particular the way networked technology forms the practical, ideological and legal premise for the idea and forms of ‘openness’ in higher education. Throughout my work, I treat ‘technology’ as a reified and fetishized concept which masks the more fundamental categories of labour, value and the commodity-form that are concealed in the idea and form of the ‘public university’. I start from the observation that advocates of ‘open education’ tend to envision an alternative form of higher education that is based on a novel form of academic commons but neglect to go further and critically consider the underlying form of academic labour. As such, the product is set free but not the producer. In response, through my publications I develop the theoretical basis for an alternative social and institutional form of co-operative higher education; one in which openness is constituted through a categorial critique aimed at the existing commodity-form of knowledge production.

The wider context to which my work responds is the marketization of UK higher education since the early 1990s and the concurrent conceptualisation in the UK of students as consumers (Naidoo et al, 2011). For those of us who are critical of this shift in higher education, which follows a broader destruction of the welfare state in the UK (Huber and Stephens, 2010), one response is to re-engineer the organising principle of higher education so that students are understood as ‘producers’ of knowledge and academic collaborators. In doing so, my co-authors and I have aimed to reinvigorate the processes by which universities are seen as sites that openly contribute to the general intellectual well-being of society (Neary and Winn, 2009). In the absence of such a response, a combination of market competition among universities (Palfreyman and Tapper, 2014), and students coerced by a ‘pedagogy of debt’ (Williams, 2006) defines the social purpose of the university as instrumental to the needs of capital and an individual rather than social good. In effect, this shift can be understood in terms of the welfare and intellectual life of students being increasingly subsumed by the imperatives of capital (Wood, 2002) and subordinated to the reproductive requirements of labour under capital (Rikowski, 2002). Within the confines of working within higher education, the political project of my research has always been against such imperatives and subordination.

The body of work discussed here provides a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in the following ways: By subjecting ‘open education’ to a negative critique based on Marx’s categories of the commodity, value and labour, I reveal fundamental features of the ‘academic commons’ that have not been identified through critiques that neglect the materiality of openness and technology. In order to illustrate this, I examine how ‘hacking’ (out of which the Open Education movement developed) was not only a cultural phenomenon but a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research. I develop this by exploring how ‘value’ is an underlying and mediating imperative in higher education, and illustrate how using a ‘form-analytic’ approach helps us reconceive the social form of knowledge and the roles of teacher and student in a way that most treatments of academic labour fail to do. I also demonstrate how it is possible to go beyond this critique by adopting a position of methodological negativity, against labour rather than from the standpoint of labour, to construct a theory for an alternative to the capitalist university: co-operative higher education. By combining this theoretical and practical work with emerging ideas on ‘open co-operatives’ in other areas, I show how new forms of higher education cannot be based on existing practices of reciprocity based on the production of value, as is often assumed, but rather on a new and directly social form of knowledge production that emerges out of the free association between individuals who recognise that we have much to learn from each other.

Publications submitted for examination

Commentary (8000w)

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: Bell, L., Neary, M. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum, 126-138.

Hall, R. and Winn, J. (2011) Questioning technology in the development of a resilient higher education. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8 (4) 343-356.

* Winn, J. (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Neary, M., Bell, L. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. London: Continuum, 133-147.

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4) 406-422.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education. Radical Philosophy, 182, 66-67.

Winn, J. and Lockwood, D. (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (eds.) Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. London: Routledge, 218-229.

* Winn, J. (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2) 486-503.

* Winn, J. (2014) Writing about academic labour. Workplace: A journal for academic labour, 25, 1-15.

* Winn, J. (2015a) Open Education and the emancipation of academic labour. Learning, Media and Technology, 40 (3).

* Winn, J. (2015b) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1) 39-55.

The Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund (SolidFund)

I’ve just spent a wonderful couple of days camping in Oxfordshire so that I could attend the Worker Co-operative Weekend (#WorkerWeekend). One of the many things I learned about (in addition to a five-hour course on basic financial literacy for co-operatives!) was the Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund.

The SolidFund was an outcome of last year’s Worker Co-op Weekend and has been discussed intensively on Loomio over the last few months. Although it hasn’t yet been widely advertised, it’s currently accumulating about £2000/month and has the potential to grow considerably if members of all UK worker co-ops and their supporters join the fund.

To give you an idea of what it’s about, the first principle of the SolidFund is:

The Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund (the Fund) is a permanent commonwealth resource, accumulated through a voluntary subscription paid by worker co-operators and workers’ co-operatives. It may also receive subscriptions and donations from other individuals or organisations who support industrial democracy and collective ownership.

You don’t have to be a member of a worker co-op to contribute to the fund. If you’re interested in supporting worker co-ops, 1 then you can help by joining the fund and through doing so, you can have a say in how it is used. The fund is held on behalf of its members by Co-operative and Community Finance.

Currently, there’s no formal website for the SolidFund (getting that ready was part of the discussion over the weekend), but you can read the mission statement and policies and sign up at these two links:

SolidFund rules: 

Join SolidFund: