In May 2016 I went to the AGM of the Co-operative Higher Education provider Social Science Centre, in Lincoln, to pitch a new branch in Manchester. They approved my request.
The Social Science Centre began in Lincoln after the Browne Report of 2009 increased fees for students dramatically and began to turn Higher Education over to the market. Our vision is for democratically owned and run higher education free at the point of access.
SSC Lincoln have been up and running since 2011. We are starting only the second branch in the country. The unique selling point for the Manchester branch is the large multi-cultural demographic in the city – sheer scale and access, basically – and the site we have picked in the Quaker Meeting House, perhaps the most politicised Meeting House in the country, next to the newly refurbished Central Library, between all the major city railway stations. This is a winning location, right in the middle of Manchester’s radical history, Peter Street, etc.
We will open on September 5th and we will be able to boast of that, but also that we are providing free HE on a goldmine postcode, next to a fantastic library, with access – hopefully – to the latest Sociology journals online.
So, what steps do we need to take in Manchester to work towards this vision? Immediate costs are for space, travel for member educational trips and guest speakers, print costs, coops uk membership, other events such as an ‘open day’ and joining the British Sociological Association as an institution to gain access to current Sociology journals electronically. Our room size is already looking small in terms of the members we have gathered so far. We may be looking to expand our courses soon, from one to many, and this means room hire. Of course, this may mean an expansion of full members too, but it may not, our education is free at the point of access.
We need financial assistance, both in terms of money and business advice. We are crowd funding an initial amount – the response has been humbling – but it will just get us started.
The current education White Paper gives all of this its context, its current political relevance, as HE continues to turn 180 degrees to face the market. There is a surplus of academic labour in the social sciences and students who cannot afford fees for degrees and MAs for a variety of reasons.
The discourses in the media about the excluded on both sides of the staff-student divide are not hard to find. Our crowd funding campaign has triggered real evidence of an appetite for change. These problems are not going to go away, in or out of the EU, until 2020 at the very least.
It is time for us to spread the SSC nationwide. Those disenfranchised by current neoliberal frameworks are hungry for this. We should be ambitious. Let’s start to brush history against the grain, not just in terms of the way we think – which was Walter Benjamin’s use of that imaginative phrase – but in terms of transforming the landscape where we all live, which we all own, collectively.
Just having two SSCs rather than one is a big step, as it means that this is a movement and not an institution, a phenomena and not an anomaly. I would love nothing more than to set this branch up and go off to start another. However, for now, SSCM is here: