Education, education, education. A phrase made popular by Tony Blair as he sought a second term of Labour government in 1996.
But co-operatives have been (formally) shouting about education since the Rochdale Pioneers. The promotion of education, coupled with the implementation of training and publication of information brings a wealth of importance to Principle 5.
The principle states that co-ops provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives.
Further, by informing the general public, co-ops can promote the nature and benefits of co-operation.
The Co-operative College has been training co-operatives since 1919, and in recent years has been involved in the establishment of the first co-operative schools (brought into existence after Tony Blair’s 2006 Education and Inspections Act).
A multi-stakeholder model for schools ensured parents/carers, staff, learners and other community stakeholders had a say over the education delivered. Co-operative schools are in existence in primary and secondary levels.
From a business perspective, co-operatives have been using education as a way to promote its co-op values to members and staff. Members have access to some form of education at member meetings; last year, for example, Midcounties Co-operative gave nine minutes of training to 25,957 members. Likewise it gave 8.4 hours of training to over 8,600 members of staff.
In education, co-operative schools are a great step to changing the mould and giving more power and responsibility to those who want a better education for their children.
But after “free school” has ended, learners are pushed towards university. A business model that costs students tens of thousands of pounds. In the past year, student loan debt rose £12.6bn to £86.2bn, according to the Financial Times.
Five years ago the average student debt after graduating was £16,200. Now this stands at an average of £44,000 as students pay up to £9,000 a year. This level of debt has a knock-on effect on the graduate’s credit rating and could hamper their ability to, for example, purchase a house.
It seems that co-operatives in their radical ways should have an answer to these social issues. One such co-operative attempting to challenge normality is the Social Science Centre of Manchester.
Members can pay a subscription fee, but access to the sessions in subjects related to social science is free to all. The founders of the co-op believe that universities have ensured students are consumers, whereas the science centre sees learners are co-operators in their own education.
It is alternative ideas such as this that could start a revolution in higher education. Staff, learners and other stakeholders can easily come together to create a more cost-effective education that benefits all.