Education in the Cooperative World

The bedrock upon which the foundation of Mondragon sits is Education. This was the beginning revolutionary act of José María Arizmendiarreta. He learned from Gernika that the group who controls technology will thrive and the only way to be on the cutting edge of technology comes by way of Education. Today, the Mondragon Experience has the following educational institutions:

  • Mondragon University (undergraduate and graduate)
  • Escula Professional Mondragon (Engineering)
  • ETEC (Business and Administration)
  • Huhezi (Pedagogy and Humanities Teachers)
  • Mondragon Lingua (Language Schools)
  • Lea-aribai (Professional and Technical Training)
  • Txorierri (Professional and Technical Schools)
  • Arizmendi (pre-school through high school) While each school is its own unique system, Mondragon University shows the model of their education.

My class visited the University on Tuesday, October 16th and these are my notes:

We chose to forgo the bus service this morning and walk from the Hotel Mondragon to Mondragon University. It was the morning rush hour and the streets were alive with drivers and pedestrians and children on their way to school. I was once again amazed at the universal willingness of drivers to yield to pedestrians and the pedestrians’ universal refusal to jaywalk! It really seemed as if it is a cultural aspect that people even cooperate in getting from one place to another. For someone from Madison, WI (where drivers feel that they are doing a huge favor by simply slowing down to 5 mph over the speed limit for pedestrians) it is a very odd experience. Once we arrived at Mondragon, we stopped for a few moments to take a class picture around the stature of José María Arizmendiaretta. The place of Mondragon is the spot where he started the first school and educated the young men who would start ULGOR (Fagor today) and the most impressive cooperative experience since Rochdale. It was emotional for me, as the only worker cooperator of the group, to take a few minutes to pay homage to such a forward thinking and inspirational leader of my movement. We then met up with Fred Freundlich again. On this occasion, he discussed the focus and structure of Mondragon University. It is a multi-stakeholder cooperative consisting of three stakeholder groups: workers, students and collaborators. The workers include staff and faculty together and the collaborators include MCC, cooperatives, the Basque Government and others. Each sector gets 1/3 of the votes in the General Assembly. The number of workers determines the baseline for votes and the president is traditionally from the collaborator side in order to provide continuity. MU is a second degree cooperative and operates as a non-profit under Spanish Law. The General Assembly elects a General Council, which appoints the Dean and Directors. The University was created in 1997 out of three other educational projects: the original polytechnic school (1947), a Humanities and Science college (1976), and a business school (1960). It should be noted that each of these schools spun-off its own cooperative (The polytechnic school created Ikerlan research; the Humanities and Science created Alecop; and the Business school created Saiolan). It is through these spin-offs and the commitment of the University that a strong link exists through study-work rotation, graduate projects, and research and development projects. This University essentially focuses on business degrees but it does have distinguishing features:

  1. It fosters education as a cooperative
  2. It combines Study and Work
  3. Fosters the values of Participation, Equality, Solidarity, and Cooperation.
  4. Deeply rooted in the Basque Country.

The last point is especially interesting. Over half of the courses are only offered in the Basque Language. Less than half are offered in both Spanish and Basque. Even though the University welcomes students from all over, it is clear that this is a Basque educational institution and that to get a degree in a timely manner will require a knowledge of Basque. The University follows the Mendeberri Model in order to respond to the needs and transformations in companies and organizations. In addition, they aim to train people whose personal, social and professional skills enable them to face new challenges.

How does Mondragon University do? Well, as one might expect, this University really feeds into the cooperative system. I am sure that there are college and university presidents that would kill or sell their soul for MU’s numbers: There is a 98% employment rate of graduates, 90% get a job in their field. 30% get a job within one month of graduation and 20% are hired before they graduate! It is interesting that the educational system transforms itself and maintains a level of flexibility to change as the world changes around them. This is one of the key features of Mondragon and it even exists at the core of the educational structure.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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