Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Co-operative Higher Education

Framework for Co-operative Higher Education (click to enlarge)

Mike Neary and Joss Winn have a new journal article out in the Open Library of the Humanities. It is a longer companion piece to their article in LATISS. The original research was funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation and is now being further developed by funding from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, where the framework is being explored in the context of four case studies. 

Here’s the abstract:

Universities in the UK are increasingly adopting corporate governance structures, a consumerist model of teaching and learning, and have the most expensive tuition fees in the world (McGettigan, 2013; OECD, 2015). This paper discusses collaborative research that aimed to develop and define a conceptual framework of knowledge production grounded in co-operative values and principles. The main findings are outlined relating to the key themes of our research: knowledge, democracy, bureaucracy, livelihood, and solidarity. We consider how these five ‘catalytic principles’ relate to three identified routes to co-operative higher education (conversion, dissolution, or creation) and argue that such work must be grounded in an adequate critique of labour and property i.e. the capital relation. We identify both the possible opportunities that the latest higher education reform in the UK affords the co-operative movement as well as the issues that arise from a more marketised and financialised approach to the production of knowledge (HEFCE, 2015). Finally, we suggest ways that the co-operative movement might respond with democratic alternatives that go beyond the distinction of public and private education.

Read the article online or download from OLH.


One of the motivations for our current focus on leadership, governance and management, was the recent work on ‘neo-collegiality’ by Bacon (2014), also funded by the LFHE. In this report, Bacon ((Dr Edwin Bacon is a member of our project Steering Group)) makes the case for collegiality understood as “a structured form of collaborative decision-making.” He argues that “the voice of universities’ academic and professional staff ought to be heard with far greater decision-making and decision-influencing force than is currently the case” and consequently focuses on “the formalized structuring of a collegial decision-making process. (2014, 3) This is distinct from a definition of collegiality as a form of behavior since, “it is too easy otherwise for institutions and individuals to commit to or to urge collegial behavior without anything actually changing in terms of decision-making.” The focus therefore, is on establishing structures and processes that enable and protect a renewed form of democratic decision-making that takes advantage of the research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels, accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.

The report offers a number of reasons why such changes are needed (2014, 24):

  • Too many staff feel voiceless.
  • Current university management structures and practices are often outdated.
  • Current management literature emphasises the disadvantages, particularly in knowledge-based sectors, of top-down hierarchical structures.
  • Current management literature emphasises the advantages of frontline staff having increased autonomy.
  • The desire for more collegial decision-making is widespread across the UK’s university sector.
  • Collegiality improves decision-making, bringing with it an awareness of the front-line activities and priorities which matter most to students.
  • Neo-collegial decision-making can take many different forms, often enhanced by new technology.

Bacon concludes his report by outlining “a menu of the potential forms that moves to neocollegiality might take.” (20) It is our early assumption that these might be adapted and used to expand the framework we offer above. The menu comprises ten proposed initiatives towards greater collegiality within a university:

  • Concordat on collegiality
  • Reviving existing structures
  • Transparency and collegiality
  • Collegiality on demand
  • Consensus collegiality
  • Temporal variations
  • Subsidiarity
  • Collegial appointments
  • Veto collegiality
  • Shared governance

We leave it to you to read the report and in particular Bacon’s remarks on the forms of collegiality, but should highlight that many of them align with our own research into co-operative higher education (e.g. reviving existing structures; consensus; subsidiarity, shared governance).