“We have more than one million students who are members of co-operatives”, said Dr Kokichi Shoji, the President of the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations.
Dr Shoji was speaking at the ‘Inspiring the next generation’ workshop at the International Co-operative Alliance’s conference, in which people heard from co-operative practitioners from around the world discuss examples of how young people are starting, running and experiencing co-operation in schools and universities.
Alongside speakers from South Africa, Canada, Uganda and the UK, Dr Shoji highlighted the extent of student-led co-operatives in universities across Japan.
There are 782 universities in Japan. Of these, a quarter (192) have a large student-led co-operatives providing services, with more than one million members.
These co-operatives are owned by their customers – primarily by students, but also by faculty and university staff.
They are the main providers of various services in the universities, from bookstores and dining halls to IT repairs, housing and mutual insurance.
Dr Shoji explained that “university co-operatives started life following the Second World War, during hard economic times”, when the co-operative model could offer affordable services to students and staff.
The co-operatives continued to grow during Japan’s economic boom and to date. Dr Shoji said: “The cause of this growth has been the desire for co-operatives during the student movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the creation of regional association to support the development of new co-operatives.”
Discussion at the session turned to the relationship between profit and the education system, with Dr Shoji pointing out that the co-operative model “provides an alternative to services being provided by universities or the state as is found in France and Germany, or by the private sector as found in the US.”