The practicalities and pedagogies of adult learning co-operatives: the case study of Leicester Vaughan College




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Peer reviewed



When, in 2016 the University of Leicester decided to ‘disestablish’ the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, the last remnant of Vaughan College was removed from the University. Since 1862, civic-focused evening education had been offered to adults in the town, responding to their needs; by turns this had become part of the University College and then the University. Latterly, it answered the widening participation and lifelong learning agendas; fundamentally it serves the moral purpose of the university: providing education to those missing out the first or second time around. By any account this was a nadir for the Vaughan tradition in Leicester; yet in other ways it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Firstly, the intellectual case and proofs of concept for the growing co-operative higher education movement have been made, not just in experiments in free co-operative HE in the Social Science Centres in Lincoln (Neary and Winn, 2017) and latterly Manchester, but also in fee-paying large-scale co-operative universities such as Mondragón in Spain (Wright, 2011). Secondly, a by-product of government policies to transform higher education into a private good (Busch, 2017), with barriers to entry for profit-seeking ‘alternative providers’ lowered, is that there is more opportunity for HE co-ops to award degrees and access HEFCE funds than ever before. With all this in mind, in 2017 Leicester Vaughan College was founded as a community benefit society, and is now offering unaccredited programmes whilst pursuing the ability to offer degree programmes. This paper considers both the practical challenges and the pedagogic principles of the adult education co-op through a case study of Leicester Vaughan College. This includes a focus on governance and organisation involving mature students with broader life experiences, and with different forms of engagement, who are potentially well-placed to take greater control of their learning, as well as the running of co-operatives. A number of pedagogies employed in co-operatives and well-suited to adult learners are also explored, in relation to capacity-building for the post-capitalist economy. Those discussed in this paper include:

  1. learning about co-operatives and alternatives to competition (Kropotkin 1890-96; 1902);
  2. learning how to co-operate and so building skills for society rather than careers, the analogue of transferrable skills (Neary and Winn 2015);
  3. meaningful engagement and control of learning by students – far beyond the engagement agenda within existing universities (Hall and Smyth, 2016);
  4. unseating dominant narratives, drawing on richer intellectual traditions of critical pedagogy and decentring privilege: mass intellectuality (Hall and Winn 2017), indigenous knowledges, decolonized curricula, to demonstrate plurality and heterogeneity. A richer set of pedagogies offers promise. Underpinning all this is the view that the very act of providing adult education rather than lifelong learning, by pushing against professionalization (e.g. Bowl, 2017) means that co-operative HE makes a sharp departure from the official discourses around what higher education should be. In this sense, co-operative HE recasts Freirean hope for emancipation from neoliberalism, whilst being rooted in concrete forms of praxis to achieve it.



higher education, co-operative education, adult education, co-operation


Hall, R., and Noble, M. (2018) The practicalities and pedagogies of adult learning co-operatives: Vaughan resurgam. In: Lifelong Learning and the Pedagogy of Hope: Proceedings of Standing Conference on University Teaching and Research in the Education of Adults (SCUTREA) 2018, 17-19 July 2018, University of Sheffield.


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice
Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)