Appeal: Help us Develop a Model for Co-operative Higher Education

This is an appeal that has gone out for people interested in learning and valuing people to take part in helping develop a co-operative model of education.  The appeal comes from Joss Winn and Mike Neary at Lincoln Social Science Centre – a hub of profound thinking on how we as a society can reach new and more equitable models of education:


Hello friends, scholars, colleagues and co-operators, Some of you will know that Mike Neary and I have recently secured a small grant for the Social Science Centre (SSC) to bring people together to develop a practical model of co-operative higher education.


There are different ways for people to be involved and I’ve created a form for you to indicate how you’d like to contribute. We are trying to develop a model for co-operative higher education, here’s how we hope you will participate.


We want the process to be as inclusive as possible and there are different ways of becoming directly involved:

  1. Come to one of the five workshops in Lincoln (June/July/Oct/Nov/Jan)
  2. Join an online focus group (dates to be confirmed)
  3. Allow us to interview you (between May 2015 and January 2016)
  4. Complete a survey (January 2016)


We have created a short form for you to complete to let us know how you’d like to be involved and what you can contribute. Please share the form with anyone you think will be interested. Thank you.


Link to participation form:

The details of the project and the sign-up form can all be found here:

Please share it with anyone you think will be interested. The SSC is four years old next month and we hope that over the next year, with your help and expertise, we can develop and propose a practical model for the co-operative movement, activists, students and academics to take and put into practice.

Thanks for your support,



Prof Mike Neary
Prof Mike Neary

The ideas which Mike Neary and Joss Winn have been developing have made impacts to how the project of education is necessarily carried out, introducing new viewpoints and widening stakeholdership.  A key idea which they have been developing is that of ‘Student as Producer’.  I will try and provide a digest of some of the key themes of Mike Neary’s paper ‘Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant – Garde ; or, how do  revolutionary teachers teach?’ here:


“A key issue for Student as Producer is that social learning is more than the individual learning in a social context, and includes the way in which the social context itself is transformed through progressive pedagogic practice. This transformation includes the institution within which the pedagogical activities are taking place, and the society out of which the particular institution is derived. At a time when the market – based model for social development appears increasingly untenable, the creation of a more progressive and sustainable social world becomes ever more necessary and desirable.”


Mike Neary is Professor of Sociology in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Lincoln.  He developed the ‘Student as Producer’ theory as a critical response to how governments have been generating a consumerist culture among undergraduate students. He cites the context for the development of the work as a system of higher education which is dominated by marketized and commercial forces.


The work is fascinating to read, as it makes a complex synthesis of many thinkers, two of which are Walter Benjamin and Lev Vygotsky. Together he presents Benjamin and Vygotsky as establishing the key principles for a pedagogy which he describes as for the avant-garde:


“students are the subjects of the intellectual process of teaching and learning, and that a progressive pedagogy involves reinventing the politics of  production”


Neary based the concept Student as Producer on the title of a lecture,  ‘Author as Producer’, which was given by Benjamin to the Society of Anti-Fascists in Paris during April 1934. At the heart of it Benjamin was asking how radical intellectuals intervene in moments of social crisis, and what form should that intervention take? Neary suggests that the lecture was inspired by the Russian constructivists, and their recognition of the role of intellectuals at the centre of the production of a new and experimental society.


Benjamin pointed his thinking at the student experience and the issue of productivity. In the ‘Life of Students’, written in 1914 – 1915, he considered the nature of student life in relation to the politics of production. Neary puts forward that Benjamin frames student life as undermined by vocational learning which has perverted the creative spirit and ‘taken possession of the universities as a whole and has isolated them from the non-official creative life of the mind’


Lev Vygotsky
Lev Vygotsky

was a pivotal thinker in developmental psychology. He developed a body of theory which describes the development of higher cognitive functions in children and posited that reasoning emerged through practical activity in a social environment.  He described the relationship between play and learning as practical, suggesting it as an environment where abstraction served a bridging purpose; for example, a stick becomes a horse or a sword, and practices are entered into.  He also developed an in depth study of the relationship between thought and language.


In context with ‘Student as Producer’, the problem Vygotsky sought to overcome was the tautological logic that lies at the core of psychology, where  ‘the explanation for states of consciousness are discovered by the concept of consciousness itself’. For Vygotsky,  the science that underpinned the explanatory principle for the nature of human intellectuality was to be discovered at a more fundamental level of social reality.


Vygotsky argues that teaching begins from the student’s experience in a particular social context, and that the social context should be arranged by the teacher so that the student teaches themselves:  ‘Education should be structured so that it is not the student that is educated, but that the student educates himself’ or, in other words, ‘…the real  secret of education lies in not teaching’


All in all it makes for a vibrant and humanized strategy for a learning culture which can adapt to the financialisation of public goods such as education. You can read Mike Neary’s paper ‘Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant – Garde ; or, how do  revolutionary teachers teach?’ below:

Joss Winn
Joss Winn

Here I have taken a paper by Joss Winn, ‘The Co-Operative University:  Labour, Property and Pedagogy’, and draw out some of the key ideas in this digest.  He is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Lincoln, and developed from an interest in the role of technology in higher education to a critique of the political economy of higher education.


He examines the available work to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. Winn then takes the co-operative form and explores its relevance to the governance and practices of higher educational institutions. He goes on to align the values and principles of worker co-operatives with the critical pedagogy of ‘Student as Producer’:


“Why should we be interested in reconstituting the university as a co-operative? To put this question another way: when confronted by the neoliberalisation of the university, its marketisation, its financialisation, the idea of the university being ‘‘gambled’’ and fallen into ‘‘ruins’’, how should we respond?”


Starting from the perspective that the history of capitalism is also a history of people contesting the organising principle of wage-labour and private property. Winn engages with Marx’s analysis where the capitalist mode of production is to divide and discard labour in the sole pursuit of value; ‘‘it promotes over – production, speculation and crises, and leads to the existence of excess capital alongside a surplus – population’’


Describing the modern institution as a factory model, his thinking is consonant with Ken Robinson’s view. University has assumed the role and form of the factory; the idea of the university, the pursuit of knowledge, and determination over their own lives are being subsumed by the values of the profit motive and the rhetoric of employability.



Winn has chosen Marx’s social theory and method because he feels it is useful as a rigorous critique of political economy which remains relevant today. He identifies co-operation as fundamental to the capitalist mode of production, and worker co-operatives as the most progressive organisational form of co-operation. He is taking a standpoint of the critique of labour, rather than one from the standpoint of labour.


He talks about how the idea of a ‘co-operative university’ is not new, and the fact that since 2011, over 800 state schools have been constituted on co-operative values and principles. His work explores how and why universities in the UK might become co-operatives, what the appeal might be to academics and students, and the extent to which co-operative values and principles are already aligned with what we might think of as academic values and principles.


He discusses the history of the cooperative and how they identify with a statement based on the ‘Rochdale Principles’ of 1844, which was last revised in 1995. The co-operative values are:

  • Self-help
  • Self-responsibility
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Equity
  • Solidarity


The principles are:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training and Information
  • Co-operation among Co-operatives
  • Concern for Community


The World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives defines the ‘‘basic characters’’ of worker co-operatives in six statements. These are concerned with the dignity of work and the importance of democratic self-management;  the free association of workers; that members of the co-operative collectively employ them selves to undertake the work; the distinction of worker co-operatives from wage-labour and individual self-employment; democratic decision making; and autonomy from the State and other third parties with respect to management of the co-operative and control over the means of production.


He identifies the impressive Mondragon University as a case study where the co-operative model has been a success in the educational context.  It is part of the largest federation of worker co-operatives in the world and was established in Spain during the 1950s. The Mondragon Corporation is a federated co-operative of 110 co-operatives and 147 subsidiary companies with over 83,000 workers.


The university itself is a ‘co-op of co-ops’, consisting of four autonomous co-operative faculties (Engineering, Business, Humanities and Education, and Gastronomic Sciences) with around 400 staff and 3700 students on six campuses. The Engineering Faculty dates from 1943, Business from 1960, Education from 1976, and in 1997 they were consolidated into a  single university, with the Faculty of Gastronomic Sciences added in 2011.


Universities in the UK are increasingly discussed in the language of productivism, in terms of  economic growth a nd the reproduction and integration of the labour market. They are regulated by and receive funding from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. In other words, the ‘means of production’ refers to the university’s structural, technological, and bureaucratic configuration as a form of capital for the production of knowledge.


The university incorporates prior knowledge into its production process, and the knowledge it produces is offered as the ‘subject of labour’ elsewhere, resulting in capital accumulation (i.e.‘growth’). The academic and student are brought together by this configuration in order to produce new knowledge through their labour.


Knowledge is commodified in various ways, such as patents, re search articles, consultancy, etc., and most importantly in the student’s primary commodity of labour- power, which they sell in the labour market worker co-operatives agreeing that ‘‘at its best such a project becomes a laboratory for the creation of forms of social cooperation and subjectivities that arguably would form the basis of a post-capitalist world’’

You can read the paper here:

Joss Winn’s Websites: