Imagine… The transnational co-operative university

“Imagine a minimalist ‘university’, on a regional or even national scale, to which autonomous units prepare and present candidates. Why go it alone rather than help to form an open, cooperative university network designed for learners and learning in our times? There is potential for students, teachers, managers and support staff to socialize massive, open online courses (Moocs), to prevent autonomy at single institutional level working for a co-operative difference rather than a competitive sameness. Imagine a university -‘universal’ was a favourite Owenite word – as a complex local and global cluster of federally-linked mutual societies of diverse sizes fit for their purpose and for meeting members’ needs. Some might be as small as seminar rooms; others as large as science parks and with no social or technical obstacles to communication between them or, for that matter, with anyone else who wishes to learn to follow the argument wherever it leads.”

Source: Yeo, Stephen (2015) The co-operative university? Transforming higher education. In: Woodin, Tom (Ed.) Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values, London: Routledge.

A few quick thoughts:

The Social Science Centre could be seen as an embryonic expression of this: a ‘model’ that was always conceived to scale horizontally (through local replication elsewhere) rather than vertically.

See also Dan Cook’s report on Realising the Co-operative University, where he too, leans towards the ‘network’ model as both appropriate and viable (paragraph 4.5.3 – 4.6).

And see work on ‘open co-operatives‘, which is an attempt at theorising such a network of locally autonomous yet globally associated worker co-operatives, based around a hybrid model of reciprocity that accounts for immaterial and material goods and services.

A solidarity network of autonomous yet associated, mutually constituted co-operatives for higher education seems appropriate to me, for all the reasons that Yeo and Cook outline. It could also take advantage of the existing global solidarity structure of the international co-operative movement, which works at both the local and global level, respecting the autonomy of each co-operative but with an emphasis on the core value of ‘co-operation among co-operatives‘.

It reminds me of my former work at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, which acted on behalf of local ‘sections’ or branches of Amnesty across the world, was accountable to them and governed by a global meeting of 500 representatives every two years.  The Secretariat has no individual subscribing members (this is the role of the local section e.g. AI UK, AI USA), but it co-ordinates and supports the work of all Amnesty sections across the world, which in turn fund the Secretariat once they reach a certain level of local income.  This transnational approach to governance could be applied to education, too.

Clearly one piece of work is to study the models of local/global organisational solidarity both within and external to the co-operative movement. e.g. trade unions, NGOs, special interest groups such as W3C, etc. and how knowledge is produced and shared within those existing networks. Surely this has been studied extensively already…

* Credit to my colleague, Mike Neary who was first to talk about the idea of a ‘transnational co-operative university’ at the ‘Co-operative education against the crises‘ conference last year.