Hugh Donnelly: Students need to learn about business models

OUR news headlines of late have been dominated by tales of economic woe, whether in terms of a stagnant UK economy or a seemingly unending crisis in Europe. More than that, people’s previously unshakable faith in traditional corporate structures has been irrevocably damaged, as evidenced by shareholder revolts and the issue of “fat cat pay”.

So it’s hardly surprising that UK politicians are calling for the establishment of the so-called “John Lewis” economy

But while the employee ownership model is gaining currency, our concern is that universities are not teaching students the different ways in which a business can be set up and run.

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It is entirely possible to spend 20 years in the Scottish education system, acquire an MBA, and have no knowledge or understanding of democratic forms of enterprise, co-ops or mutuals.

That’s why at the Co-operative Education Trust Scotland (CETS) we promote the concept of democratic enterprise at all levels of education But we’d make the broader argument that universities need to up their game in the teaching of democratic enterprise alternatives.

CETS also works in tandem with Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) to spread the word of how companies can be more productive when their employees have a stake.

The material we offer at university level explains the internationally recognised values and principles that underpin democratic employee ownership.

However, students studying economics and business should be taught about alternative ways of running a company as a matter of course. After all, in Scotland we played a leading role in this field dating back to the 18th century when Robert Owen transformed New Lanark into an enlightened industrial community.

We were, appropriately, at New Lanark last weekend for a series of events and debates to celebrate the co-operative movement. Surely it’s time for our students to be just as enlightened when it comes to the different ways of running a company.

• Hugh Donnelly is the director of Co-operative Education Trust Scotland