Students launch national cooperative development organisation
Students For Cooperation is a national body being created to help develop and support student cooperatives across the UK. It will be controlled by its constituent coops and will help create new groups by providing training and workshops to students. It aims to create a dedicated network of cooperatives across the UK that provide students with affordable democratically controlled services.
Tuition fee hikes and the effects of austerity have been pushing students deeper into financial trouble over the past few years. Students unions often have bars and cafes but the vast majority of money that students spend, on bills, food and course supplies goes right into the hand of profit making corporations. Student accommodation for instance has been left almost wholly to university providers and private landlords resulting in unsustainable rent increases and rampant exploitation. Students democratic involvement in how and where their money is spent is non-existent and, as they soon go on to find out, life after graduation can end up being much the same.
Elsewhere in the world there is a venerable tradition of student cooperation, the endeavour to retain money spent by students in the local community on a not for profit basis. In North America there is NASCO a network of student cooperatives that co-own the services they use on daily basis some of them such as Berkeley Student Cooperative that houses and provides food for thousands of students. Whilst in Europe, Quebec and Australasia there are student run funds that provide everything from bicycle shops to book-stores.
In recent years in the UK cooperatives have been on the upsurge with international cooperative conference being held in Manchester in 2012 to mark the UN year of the co-op and Cooperative Energy, a national utilities provider being launched in 2011. Student cooperatives are starting to emerge on a small scale too, on campus’s across the country buying consortium’s are being created by students to provide cheap access to bulk food whilst last month saw the first student housing cooperative in the UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2013/mar/13/student-housing-cooperative-cuts-rent_) secure £500k in funding to purchase two houses in Birmingham that will initially house 10 students. Other groups in Edinburgh and London are also in discussion about setting up student housing co-ops, a form of housing that seems to dramatically undercut the rental market and additionally give students real control over their living situations.
The students that were involved in setting up the housing co-op in Birmingham were only able to do so because of the contacts, links and relationships they had created with members in the co-op community whilst setting up a Volunteer run bicycle cooperative, The Green Bike Project. Students For Cooperation aims to become an organisation that can link students who are motivated to set up cooperatives and the expertise and business knowledge of the cooperative sector. As an organisation that is formed of student co-ops and operating in a grass roots manner it could easily tap into the organisational efficiency of the student movement and provide it with just the help it needs to start co-ops flourishing across the UK. In the USA tens of thousands of students are housed in cooperatives whilst in Oslo 40% of the population is cooperatively housed, at a time when rents are increasing at double the rate of inflation and student fees have been doubled large amounts of effort should be invested in creating a national body that can effectively help students create their own democratic money saving businesses.
The proposal is that Students For Cooperation will be democratically run as a secondary co-op on a federal basis by constituent coops of the Student co-op movement, it will provide training and materials to support the work of those co-ops and will also work with Students unions, the co-op movement and other NGO’s to help foster the existence of new cooperatives at universities and FE institutions across the country. Initially Students For Cooperation for funding but over the long time it will fund its existence by taking a small percentage from the cooperatives it supports and brings into existence, this is the model that NASCO in America and other federated co-ops such as Radical Routes use. There will be regular meetings of delegates from the co-ops to decide on the direction of their movement with large conferences to encourage grass-roots participation. Ideally the organisation will be staffed by two employees one in Scotland and another in England who have have experience both of student organising and the cooperative movement and are able to bridge the divide and travel the country helping start up cooperatives. As the number of fee paying student cooperatives increase Students For Cooperation will be able to hire more skilled employees to provide more of the services the student co-ops need help with. Over time student co-ops could accumulate large amounts of property and help introduce whole new generations of students to the idea of cooperation and democratically run businesses.
Previous attempts at the co-op movement for students in the UK have come from bodies that aren’t co-ops, such as the NUS with their report a Cooperative Future for Student Housing and People and Planets work setting up SCOOPS across the country. Although both have great messages and intentions they are also tasked with fulfilling many other functions Students For Cooperation will be a grass-roots organisation directed by cooperatives and their members that can bring about a positive change for students.
To find out more and follow the launch of this organisation like the Facebook page here and follow @StudentCoopsUK or get in contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students For Cooperation will be applying for funding grants shortly and will also be crowd-sourcing funding for its initial start up.
Students For Cooperation already has the support of members from
Birmingham Student Housing Cooperative
Edinburgh Students Housing Cooperative Campaign
Green Bike Project
People and Planet UK
London Student Tenants Union
National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts
University of Birmingham Guild of Students