Alternative Models for Higher Education

An ongoing discussion of alternative models of Higher Education, as Marton Racz reports, is generating a series of proposals as to how universities might work along more cooperative lines.

Back in July, during a workshop at Leicester’s 9th International Critical Management Studies Conference, we discussed alternative models of Higher Education within the context of business and management studies. Our aim was to share existing collective practices, partisan or institutional, that could help realise an alternative business school. Participants who joined us from all around the world were asked to share their visions of a place they would like to work, to consider how to build it, and to reflect on what has already been achieved in the name of alternatives. At the end of the workshop we collectively proposed, amongst other things:

  • To historicise management ideas which are often presented as universal
  • To engage with the physical environment of the university
  • To strengthen links with not for profit organisations
  • To campaign for the living wage for all university employees
  • To develop crowd-funding approaches (like Contributoria was for journalists)
  • To contribute a percentage of academic salaries to a self-organised research fund.

A related ‘emergency meeting’ took place recently at the Manchester Business School within which we discussed the potential for co-operative models within Higher Education. Professor Mike Neary set the tone by discussing how critical theory can brought into practice, within and beyond the university. He submitted the example of Lincoln’s Social Science Centre (SSC), a co-operative higher education institution which is run and sustained by its members, for our consideration. Building on work done previously at Warwick’s The Reinvention Centre, the SSC’s aim is to reconnect research and teaching with student-scholars. There are no official ties to the University of Lincoln and the goal is neither to renew the profession of academia nor to recreate the university from the outside. Instead, the SSC’s members want to create a new understanding of what social value is, through predominately educational means. Similar initiatives abound including, for example, within Leicester’s own People’s University.

But exodus isn’t the only option, Professor Neary continued, there are also experimental alternatives currently taking place within the University of Lincoln. The idea of the student-as-producer, based on Walter Benjamin’s famous description of the author-as-producer who transforms social relations and value, presents one such possibility. Students at all levels, within this model, are recast as producers of knowledge. This reinvigorates the idea of the university as a place where research and teaching are discussed collaboratively, assuming a relationship which the philosopher Jacques Rancière calls the ‘equality of intelligence’. Module leaders, for example, are currently encouraged to reconsider their courses along these very lines by the Higher Education Academy following in these footsteps. Additionally, running parts of the university as co-operatives (say, the cafeteria or student housing), or even transforming entire educational institutions into cooperatives, are initiatives which are also being explored. Working from the inside, the idea here is to realize a series of small changes by focusing on the cooperative processes which are already in place. A series of small changes, taken together, might eventually re-shape the entire infrastructure.

If Professor Neary’s ideas sound a little utopian, that might simply be because it has become so difficult for us to act on the alternatives that we have been able to imagine. At the very least, these proposals, and others like them, require us to rethink organisation ‘as a kind of politics made durable’. The organisation of contemporary Higher Education represents certain powerful political choices and so any attempt at reorganisation is a political action which we commit both locally and individually. That shouldn’t mean that organisation – that is to say politics – is done in isolation. That a network of scholars is emerging around these issues both in the UK and internationally is to be welcomed. During our next meeting, scheduled to take place in Leicester this forthcoming January, we seek to develop these emergent suggestions into even more concrete plans. Watch this space.

Originally published at

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