As Tom Woodin points out in his Introduction to the book, Co–operation, Learning and Co–operative 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.
“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…