Student cooperatives in Mondragon University, Spain

Cooperativism is the leading business model in the Basque country in the north of Spain. One of the partners in the social economy in higher education project is Mondragon University/MIK, a worker-owned university and research centre. Mondragon is the world's largest industrial worker co-operative. The Spanish constitution explicitly recognises that co-operatives encouraged democracy after the dictatorship of Franco – and as a consequence they pay lower rates of tax.

In July 2013 legislation was passed in the Basque Country allowing students to form workers cooperatives called ‘Junior Cooperativas’.  The Faculty of Business Administration of Mondragon University and MIK Research Centre had conducted a study and submitted a proposal to the Basque Government to drive a route that would allow students to create cooperatives in order to put their education and knowledge into practice. This formula has existed in Finland for years and allowed students from the Nordic country to create a business in the form of a cooperative.

The objective of these cooperatives is to create jobs for their members, i.e. the students, who develop their entrepreneurial skills by producing goods and services to real clients. The members can work full-time or part-time. In this way students will be ‘user members’ while they develop a project and ‘collaborating members’ when they are not developing a project.

Description of the Cooperatives

This new class of cooperative is called "Junior cooperativas", using the English word to denote a young person as partner in the business and that the ultimate aim of the activity is ultimately to learn. Its goal is to be a real and practical instrument so its members can learn to manage a cooperative. A junior cooperativa is a cooperative society with a clear social objective: the practical implementation of the skills and knowledge acquired by the student, the ‘user partners.’

Up to now the rules governing cooperative societies in the Basque country have not specifically considered cooperatives formed by students whose objective was to develop an activity to put their knowledge into practice through the work. This innovative way of learning originates in the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and is applied successfully in other countries around the world. It is an innovative model and method, where students are the real actors in the process of acquisition and development of skills of an entrepreneur, a teaching method which is truly ‘learning by doing’. The training the students receive develops mainly through the practice of the creation and launching of various projects which they themselves have designed.

Junior Cooperativas is a valuable educational tool to learn how cooperatives work and how they are managed in reality. Also the implementation of this model in the Basque country will provide significant advantages to the business environment, since in addition to the creation of new cooperatives during the university course of its members, there are many possibilities for members to continue their career through a creation of a company, possibly as a cooperative society.

 

See a video about Mondragon worker cooperative here.

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