Meet… Linda Shaw, former vice principal of the Co-operative College

'It was a privilege to work in the co-operative movement'

Dr Shaw is a trained historian with experience in adult education and international development. She retired from the College in 2015, after 14 years with the organisation.

How did you become involved in the sector?

My children were in the Woodcraft Folk. I joined the Co-operative College when it moved to Manchester in 2001. That was my first engagement with the co-op movement. 

I was working in adult education at the University of Manchester and I welcomed the opportunity to work in adult education within another sector. At the time universities were running down their adult education provision.

What do you think of the College’s ambition to get degree accreditation powers and provide more opportunities for adult learners?

The co-operative university project is a very positive step forward, I am very supportive of it. I think it’s important to the college to move forward and the big idea of the co-op university is a good fit.

Throughout the college’s history, there has been a lot of discussion around a co-operative university. This is fulfilling the early dreams, which is great.

What is your best memory from your time at the College?

I think my best memories relate to the people I worked with over the years. It was a privilege to work with people to try to build something together. That applied just as much to the international work as it did to the UK work.

It was a privilege to work in the co-operative movement. The sector has been expanding and growing in confidence.

While there, I helped to shape some of the directions, redeveloped the international work and focused on research as well. It was very fulfilling.  

How have you been involved since you retired?

I helped to finish the work on some of the writing for the co-operative development work. Stirling Smith and I worked together in the Northern province of Sri Lanka on an education and development programme for co-ops, which lasted around a year. We did a return trip last year.

The other main project I am involved in is working on two books that will be published to mark the college’s centenary. One is in its final stages of publication. It features a collection of articles around co-op education and the college. Titled Learning for a Co-operative World, it covers a range of issues, from platform co-operatives in the USA to the ideas of Robert Owen.

The second book is a history of the Co-operative College and it will be published before its conference in November. This is a historical book, published by Palgrave as part of its histories of adult education series. I am exploring the international aspect of the college’s work. I’ve been looking at the colonial office under the then Labour government and how it came to support colonial and Commonwealth students at the College, a process which lasted 40 years. 

It seems that there is growing recognition of the work co-operatives do in terms of development. Do you think co-ops could build on this momentum? 

I think we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Cooperatives Europe’s publication on the role of co-ops in promoting peace builds on the work we did trying to bring co-ops on the EU’s development agenda, that was a long process but it seems to have been fruitful. Also, it is important to collaborate more amongst ourselves. Individual co-op bodies are sometimes doing their own thing.

For the college, education is a big driver of co-operative development. But again, we need to consider what kind of education we are talking about.

Looking at some of the work the college did in Malawi, we found co-ops on the ground often get conflicting education from different agencies. This can be the case in other countries as well, where members get confused by the different definitions of co-ops or may not be aware of the co-op law.

Perhaps more work also needs to be done to make policymakers aware of the way co-ops can and do contribute to development because they can play a really valuable role. The movement itself needs more understanding about the different development strategies.

We also need to strengthen co-operative research so that we can then argue the case for co-ops grounded on academic studies. I’d like to see more evidence, more research.

Where do you think co-operative research and education will be in 10 years’ time?

There will be a next generation coming through. I hope we see some improvement in terms of students focusing on co-ops. 

I don’t think a sudden change will take place but I expect to see some incremental growth.

The ICA recently advertised that the Centre of Expertise for Cooperative Entrepreneurship (KCO) of KU Leuven, Belgium, is looking for five full-time PhD students to pursue research on co-operatives. That’s great. If we could have more on this scale, it would raise the profile of co-operative research in the future.

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