Alternative co-op higher education centre opens in Manchester

A co-operatively run social science centre is looking to provide an alternative, debt-free model of higher education (HE) for all Mancunians. Launched earlier this year, the Social Science...

A co-operatively run social science centre is looking to provide an alternative, debt-free model of higher education (HE) for all Mancunians.

Launched earlier this year, the Social Science Centre of Manchester is challenging the idea of university as elitist and removed from the local community. The centre is run as a co-operative and is organised on the basis of democratic principles. All members have equal involvement in the life and work of the SSC.

Participants will study themes related to core subjects in social science – sociology, politics and philosophy, psychology, economics, journalism and photography. Membership comes with a subscription fee and AGM rights, but scholarship is free and so are the educational sessions.

SSC is currently looking for members and scholars and funding to get off the ground. The centre ran a five-week short course on Brexit in July and August and will continue with course on sociological imagination starting on 5 September at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester.

SSC aims to raise funds to cover the costs of room hire for the first phase, which will take place from September until December. They have initiated a crowdfunding campaign, which has already raised the £1,000 target.

The founders of the centre think that universities have become servants of the market, with staff seen as providers and students as consumers. SSC is seeing students as co-operators and researchers rather than consumers.

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The Manchester centre is based on the model pioneered by the Social Science Centre in Lincoln, which has been offering free, co-operative higher education since 2011. The Lincoln based organisation granted approval for the new Manchester branch at its AGM in 2016.

Dr Steve Hanson of SSC Manchester commented: “The new HE white paper clearly places Higher Education in the market, and as a servant of the market, although no-one inside has been naive enough to think it anywhere else for some time. HE will not be miraculously liberated from neoconservative policy in the near future. There is no point relying on a long wait for internal change.

“It is time to create new values: a more flattened hierarchy, no fees, a message that all of us are ‘scholars’, a Higher Education co-op. SSC Lincoln were the first to do things differently after the Browne Report of 2009 and the Millbank Riot of 2010, and we will be extending this to more people with the establishment of SSC Manchester. If you believe in an alternative to the current neoliberal model, please help, either by making a contribution to our start-up costs or registering as a scholar or member.”

An animation lecturer, Joe Darlington was one of the participants in the centre’s first course, which looked at Brexit.

“I come from an academic background but this is my first every foray into the social sciences,” he said. “I found the Brexit short course to be a surprisingly positive experience. The media was really limited in its range of opinion, especially lefty liberal stuff which seemed to either be a middle class rant about idiot Leave voters or patronising reflections on the feelings of ‘real England’ and how these are ‘valid expressions of frustration’.

“The BBC seemed to presume Farage had won the thing single-handed. The experience left me feeling rather alienated from it all, knowing people on both sides of the argument whose reasons for voting didn’t fit at all with the meanings, which were retrospectively attributed to the whole country.

Mr Darlington added that the SSCM course, by bringing together people from different backgrounds with different experiences for a discussion, ended up shifting his perception of Brexit as well as his view of this nation’s political landscape in general.

“Where social media and the like seemed to be condensing the nation down into a simplistic and rather nasty binary opposition, just committing to a concerted two hour discussion on the topic every week made me much more aware of divergence in opinions and much more willing to take people’s reasoning at its word rather than attribute it to ignorance or bad faith. It’s also just nice to have room made for ideas.

“My work is very practical so an intellectual discussion every once in a while is quite refreshing.”

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