As the Co-operative College prepares to celebrate its centenary anniversary in 2019, new research by Linda Shaw looks at co-operative education during the period following World War II.
Dr Shaw’s study aims to put co-ops back into the history of international development and understand the role of the College and its network.
She explained to delegates at the Co-operative Education Conference in Manchester how co-ops played a significant role in post-war colonial policies, which have been described as ‘developmentalist colonialism’. This new policy set up co-operative ministries and departments that still exist in most countries. They tend to have a dual role of inspecting and monitoring co-operatives but sometimes also aim to foster co-operative development.
“There is a tension in their role; they tend to focus more on inspection rather than engaging much in education,” she said. The policy was also marked by a shift in emphasis to setting up different types of specialised co-ops, while previously the policy had focused on thrift and credit co-ops.
The new approach resulted in an increased demand for large-scale training for staff members at these new ministries. The College was selected by the then UK government to provide training for students from the colonies.
A series of programmes started in 1947, lasting until the 1980s. Throughout this time, the College trained over 600 students from Africa, Asia and other British colonies, and later the Commonwealth.
Up to 40 overseas students a year were funded to attend by the UK government. From the 1970s, the UK co-operative movement raised money to fund students from non-governmental co-op services, like NGOs.
Through these programmes, the College also helped generate a network of experts who worked on co-op development projects in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, as well as for UN agencies, said Dr Shaw. The College also helped train staff for co-operative colleges in Tanzania and Ghana. Students who attended the course went on to become leaders in co-operative movements in their countries. She added that the role of non state actors such as co-ops had often been ignored before the emergence of NGOs.
With the ending of financial support for the programme in the 1980s, co-ops stopped being seen as an essential actor in development. While some co-ops failed, others were under government control or seen as residual, failed institutions. “It was a mixed picture,” said Dr Shaw.
The next step in Dr Shaw’s research will be to develop a systematic review of materials in the College’s archive. She aims to produce selective country case studies, which will be integrated into the College’s centenary publications.