Co-operation on campus

A look at some institutions offering higher education for the co-op movement

Efforts to incubate and grow the co-operative moment face a number of obstacles, from hostile regulation to difficulty accessing capital. Education is also high up on the list, with co-operators often pointing to neglect of the model when it comes to business school curricula.

But there are several universities around the world which do pay attention to co-operation, giving students a grounding in the movement and producing important research.

Canada’s St Mary’s University – based in Halifax, Nova Scotia – is a well-known example, operating its International Centre for Co-operative Management.

This works to “further co-operative management education and knowledge dissemination internationally”, and also offers education for co-op leaders.

It plays a leading role in co-op education and research, organising international events and study tours and collaborating with co-op organisations around the world. Courses include certificates, graduate diplomas and masters in co-op management.

St Mary’s University in Canada

It holds a number of events, too, including the upcoming second International Co-operative Governance Symposium, held online from 17-19 June, to “showcase and debate new and different governance frameworks that focus on the people-centred, democratic, and jointly owned nature of co-operatives”.

Its website hosts a range of past webinars, with subjects ranging from indigenous rights and youth empowerment to broader histories of the co-op movement, and a look at its role in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.

Every year, it offers some non-student spots on our tours to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy or Mondragon, Spain, to experience hands-on learning focused on models of co-operative excellence; these have been suspended until the pandemic is over.

In Ireland, the Centre for Co-operative Studies at the University of Cork, promotes education, training and independent research, and consultancy services in all aspects of co-op organisation and development. Established in 1981, the Centre has carried out research into agricultural, community, worker, housing and credit co-operatives, and offers information, advice and support to the co-op sector.

Research has included studies of co-operative management practices in community co-ops, membership development in major agricultural co-operatives, youth involvement in credit unions and several social economy projects.

It is a member of the EMES International Research Network – a group of universities and researchers working to develop knowledge of the social and solidarity economy. Other members include the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University, the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE), and the Centre for Social Economy at the University of Liege, France.

In South America, the Co-operative University of Colombia launched in 1963  with its roots in a 1958 project, the Moses Coady Institute, launched by a group of cooperativists to develop the solidarity economy. 

Since 1990, the university has developed  five local sections, with the main location in Bogotá. It says its current goals are strengthening its relations in the country and internationally, providing the physical and technological infrastructure, and innovating its teaching and learning processes, to meet the needs of its communities. 

Co-operative University of Colombia

In Africa, where the co-operative model is a key tool for empowerment and economic development, education has an important role to play too. Organisations such as Fairtrade International, the UK Co-operative College, and the US Overseas Co-operative Development Council have been involved in numerous training programmes. And there are homegrown organisations working to incubate the next generation of co-operators, such as the Co-operative University of Kenya. Launched in 1967, the Nairobi-based university offers education, training, research and consultancy to produce co-op leaders and encourage rural, business and technological development. 

The Co-operative University of Kenya

The university holds an annual conference; now in its fifth year, its forthcoming edition takes place online on 27-28 July, bringing together industry leaders, academics, researchers, policymakers, youth, and co-operative practitioners to share knowledge and experiences. It will look at ways to rebuild from the Covid-19 crisis, with an emphasis on “the social and solidarity economy as a catalyst for resilience, inclusivity, and attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.”

Tanzania is home to the Moshi Co-operative University, which works in areas such as co-op education and development, business, economics, marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, banking, accounting, taxation, law, procurement and supply chain management, human resource management, information technology and community development.

Graduates have taken up leadership and management positions at home and abroad in co-operatives, banks, microfinance institutions, business, politics, local government and various companies. 

In the USA, the New School is a private university in New York, dedicated to offering a progressive education. It is home to the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy, the research arm of the international Platform Co-operative Consortium. 

Launched in 2019, it provides prospective and existing platform co-ops with applied and theoretical knowledge, education, and policy analysis, with the aim of encouraging a new wave of platform co-op start-ups to create a democratic alternative to the tech giants dominating the online economy.Its next event is the annual Platform Cooperativism Consortium Conference at Humboldt University of Berlin from 12-18 November. 

Convened by the Platform Cooperativism Consortium with two Berlin-based organisations – the Institute for Ecological Economy Research and Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), – it will see “co-op pioneers, designers, researchers, and technologists explore the potential of data trusts, cryptocurrencies, token economies, and distributed ledgers”. 

Partner organisations in the conference are Mondragon University MTA , Mondragon, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Platform Cooperatives Germany.

The event is produced in close collaboration with International Cooperative Alliance, CICOPA, CECOP, ICA Youth Network and Cooperatives Europe. The conference is split into a three-day, in-person event in Berlin, and a set of virtual events, curated by global catalysts. The goal of this year’s PCC conference is to advance an internationalist alliance in support of the cooperative digital economy.

Click here to read more from this month’s education edition

  • The article was updated on 8 June to correct details of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium Conference