As a current member of the Interim Academic Board, Hannah Bland gives us a students perspective on a future Co-operative University and how she hopes it will be different, drawing on her previous experience at University.

Hannah Bland headshot

I came across the co-operative uni project as a student, at a time when I’d all but given up on institutional education. The project was an unexpected, yet much needed, bit of hope. I come to the project from the perspective, not of a frustrated educator (like many of my colleagues on the board), but of a disenfranchised (and yet intrigued) student. 

Student life

As a student with a heavy debt and an unsure future, my energy was funnelled into the ‘learning that counts’ - i.e. that which would influence my grade (and exchange value in the market). I knew very little about the work the other students in my class were doing, nor what my tutors were working on.

I felt constantly stressed about my own assessments and felt that what we were doing together in the classroom just didn’t seem relevant. If anything, it got in the way. As well as feeling isolated, I felt frustrated about my position. I was writing passionately about the reproduction of inequality under neoliberal capitalism, yet simultaneously concerned about producing a piece of work that’d give me a degree and (hopefully) land me a job. 

Grateful but pushing for change

As a white British non-disabled and middle class twenty-something yr old, I was aware of my privileged position in the meritocratic ladder. So on top of stress and isolation, I felt paralysed by my own hypocrisy. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my time at University. In fact, it is precisely my appreciation for that experience, that motivates me to accreditation. Having the privilege of doing two full time accredited HE programmes, I had access to student finances, and a social license, to spend five years interrogating my sense of the world. 

Ultimately, the experience dismantled my assumptions, instilled a commitment to social justice, and entrenched a belief in the power of critical and intellectual reflection. When researching experimental co-operative HE initiatives, I was assured that co-operative HE exists and is already transforming worldviews in communities around the UK. 

Nevertheless, without accreditation, there is no funding, and without funding these experimental processes remain small, in the shadows, and only for those who have the luxury of time to spend on it.  

Future hopes

I saw (and still see) the co-op uni as moving us towards more useful (not to mention more democratic) forms of knowledge production. Rooted in conversations about labour and the commons, the co-operative approach offers us an alternative language (and with it a set of assumptions) for higher education. 

The language of production allows us to move beyond consumer-rhetoric and mentality that surrounds much of what ‘education’ has come to be. The focus is not on the individual’s CV, but on the production of something useful to society. This recognition of labour negates the student/pupil being the consumer, an empty vessel, or mold to be shaped by an authoritative teacher, and positions her/him/them as a valued citizen doing useful work. 

Challenges on the way

The thing I fear most, is the ‘completion’ of the co-operative university project. If there comes a time when a future Co-operative University is seen as an established institution, with a democratic process, I fear it will have died. 

It will no longer be a project for all to engage, it will not be self-critical nor responsive to new needs or challenges that it is presented with. I hope that we can maintain a living process that forever struggles and strives through its unfinishedness.

Do you agree with Hannah? What would you like to see a future Co-operative University offer? How should it be different? Tell us in the comments below!

More information on a future Co-operative University is also available via the button below. 

Co-operative University