Australian business schools’ neglect of co-operative education is ‘costing us all’

Professor Greg Patmore of the University of Sydney warns of a blind spot in Australia’s business schools when it comes to co-ops

Australian business schools’ neglect of co-operative education is “costing us all”, says Greg Patmore of the University of Sydney.

Writing in The Conversation earlier this month, Prof Patmore said the positive contribution made by co-ops in Australia is not reflected in the country’s business education.

“Australia has a rich history of communities forming co-operatives to provide services where for-profit businesses or the state have been unwilling or unable,” he wrote. “They run shops and schools, offer banking and mortgage services, and provide housing and health services.

“Though co-operatives exist throughout Australian society, making a hugely valuable economic contribution, their distinctive nature and management requirements are largely ignored by university business schools.

“This neglect is costing us all.”

In 2016 a Senate committee inquiry found neglect of co-op and mutual businesses in education was holding the sector back.

Prof Patmore suggests in the article that this neglect has actively damaged the sector, highlighting the demutualisation of large member-owned organisations such as AMP and the St George Bank in the 1980s and 1990s.

There are over 1,700 co-ops in Australia, with around eight in ten Australians being members of a co-op or mutual. However, only three in ten Australians could name a co-operative or mutually owned enterprise and only 16% of Australians are aware they are a member of one, according to a survey conducted by The Australia Institute.

Professor Patmore points to Tranby Indigenous adult education school as a good example of co-operative education, but said this a “rarity in business education”, where “the focus instead is on individual entrepreneurship, investor-owned businesses and vague ideas of social business.”

Both specialist courses on co-operatives and recognition of co-ops within general business or law courses is needed, said ProfPatmore, who also made an appeal to Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

“It is important students at all levels be aware of what makes co-operative businesses different and valuable,’ he wrote. “Hopefully the Albanese government will not neglect them. They have a lot to offer communities and reinforce democratic values.”