A conference hosted by the Co-operative College earlier this month looked at the potential for creating the UK’s first co-operative university.
The event, held in Manchester on 9 November, saw a series of workshops looking at the structure, governance, pedagogy, research, financing and accreditation of the university.
In terms of democracy and governance, it was agreed that membership needed to be meaningfully linked to governance and democracy but highlighted that any model chosen would probably be experimental and would need to adapt over time.
On the issues of curricula and pedagogy, co-operators and academics suggested that students could be part of the academic labour and enjoy workplace democracy, making the institution distinct from others.
Another workshop looked at how the university could act as a federated model, including the possibility of the College working with Mondragon University to award degrees until it gained the experience required.
While some participants argued for a transformation of the educational system, others suggested starting by forming a co-op university and working collaboratively.
The Co-operative College recently responded to the Higher Education Research Act (2017) by forming a Co-operative University Working Group (CUWG), made up of co-operative educators and practitioners, academics, students, adult and community educators, and others interested in alternative educational approaches.
The Act encourages the formation of ‘challenger’ institutions complementary to the existing university system and encourages visionary thinking on governance, pedagogy, curriculum, fees, federated approaches and social purpose. The College already delivers higher education with university partners.
College principal Simon Parkinson said the organisation wanted to convene and create a space where people could come together and issue a “call to action” for a co-operative university.
“We have to offer the challenger institution the regulators are expecting,” he said. “If we go in with strong, well-thought model based on academic rigour as well as student empowerment, then we have a good chance. A challenger not a threatening institution.”
The College’s Future Pioneers’ Fund could partially fund the project, he added.
The Co-operative College will continue to survey its members about how they would like to see the initiative take off. In December the College will meet with regulators to discuss the project.