Our Vice Principal Cilla Ross gives us her thoughts on the factors that will make a Co-operative University unique.

At the Co-operative College we know what would make a Co-operative University different from a traditional university. As we steer ourselves through the regulatory frameworks in order to acquire Degree Awarding Powers, we’ve got the differences down to a top five!

At our Co-operative University Information Day in early March we decided to ask you for your top five too. This meant that co-operators, potential students, academics, teachers, researchers, colleagues, and general enthusiasts all posted up what they felt would be the main priorities and differences of a Co-operative University. Luckily, we all (more or less) agree! Here they are, in no particular order.

Not afraid of the big issues

A Co-operative University has a responsibility to tackle the big issues of our time, with a commitment to supporting social change and reinvigorating radical ideas. The Co-operative University will explore a whole range of issues, from the world of work (and how we do this, equitably, in the future) to how we take a values based approach to looking after the planet and our neighbourhoods as citizens.

Developing the skills needed to identify, understand and make positive change will be a big part of participating in the Co-operative University. Running courses which have content focused on the role of co-operation in forging a better social, economic and political world cannot be negotiable!

How we’ll be governed

A second difference prioritised by Information Day participants was the importance of co-operative governance. Although it is the Co-operative College that is formally seeking Degree Awarding Powers on behalf of the federation of Higher Education Co-operatives, a Co-operative  University will be wholeheartedly co-operative in the way that it is governed. 

You want a one member one vote system and for students, academics and all support staff to be members. So do we. Sound democratic practice is critical to everything we do. As the federation grows there will be a need to continuously reflect on and test what is working and what isn’t, but a university with a vibrant co-operative model of governance is one of our ‘red lines’.

It’s arguably the main difference between the traditional university and the Co-operative one and we know from many of the responses that we’ve received that it’s important to you too.


A third difference is the innovative nature of the Co-operative University model and the impact this could have in terms of disrupting the status quo. The new university may not be huge (compared to lots of other universities) but there will be significant advantages in keeping to a manageable scale. A Co-operative University will offer an alternative model to other education institutions globally, showing how things can be done differently.

Absence of hierarchy

Reason number four focuses on a lack of hierarchy and a commitment to inclusivity. This will set the Co-operative University apart from the traditional or neo-liberal model. This lack of hierarchy is characterised by our governance model too, as explained above. We want to foster a shared responsibility amongst everyone involved for making this university work, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.

An extraordinary academic experience

Last but not least, the final major difference between a Co-operative University and its traditional counterparts will be the way in which the teaching, learning and research takes place. Our research told us that you wanted to see significant student input into the content and design of courses and in how students do their learning. You believe that the knowledge produced in a Co-operative University will be different because it will have been created in a strongly collaborative, values driven and co-operative way. We agree and can’t wait to build an extraordinary academic experience together. 

Agree or disagree, tell us what you think in the comments below. Read more about the Co-operative University via the button below too.

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