Recent studies around co‑operative education and training have described the co‑operative education and training context from the supply side. In the past decade a variety of co‑operative education programs were developed and launched in Canada. Most of these were post‑graduate (degree or certificate) programs. Some had a specific focus on co‑operatives (e.g., the MA program at Saint Mary's University, the MA program at University of Sherbrooke, the certificate program at York University, the interdisciplinary PhD program at the University of Saskatchewan), while others had a broader "social economy" or community economic development" focus (e.g., the MBA program at Cape Breton University).

From a study completed in 2014, graduates from the university programs which are dedicated to the co‑operative model have a good level of program satisfaction. Additionally, 65% of graduates from co‑operative education programs feel they have a significant or moderately significant impact on their co‑operative's performance. While the co‑operative sector has provided support for some of these programs and there is a good level of satisfaction exiting the programs, the programs have trouble attracting a significant number of students (especially vis‑à‑vis the size of the sector and the number of students in conventional business programs). There are fewer than 100 students in Canada taking a higher education program focused on co‑operatives. [1] Yet using the most recent information from the Government of Canada, in 2012 there were 7,906 non‑financial co‑operatives in Canada spanning all provinces and territories with 86,272 full‑time and part‑time jobs. Adding the financial co‑operatives, in 2012 there were just over 8,225 co‑operatives in Canada. Compounded to this, we have seen the gradual disappearance of co‑operation as a model in economics and business schools curricula [2], yet there are 110,000 business school graduates in Canada every year.

Another major supplier of education and training are the co‑operatives themselves, as well as associations and federations offering seminars and workshops to target audiences which are first managers/executive directors, followed by board members. [3] While not specifically within the formal higher education realm, the ongoing education by the co‑operative sector of its managers and board members is an important piece of the education and training puzzle.

There is also a broader context in which this needs assessment can be located. This is the changing nature of the economy and the state over the last several decades. The economy has been characterized not only by trade liberalization but also by the digital revolution, which has transformed entire industries, giving rise to a wide variety of new products and services, while making other sectors virtually obsolete. For its part, the state has withdrawn significantly in recent years from its support for social service funding and job training and creation, while encouraging the private sector to play a greater role in these areas. Higher education has also been affected by these reforms, including suffering significant budget cutbacks and being charged with playing a more significant role in business education and training, across a full range of its programs (not just in business schools). Additionally, the higher education sector is increasingly looking to provide students with more tangible, "hands‑on" learning opportunities in businesses (e.g., placement programs, internships, "co‑op programs"), as well as playing a significant role in incubation and support for new enterprises (especially in new tech areas, but also in local economic development).

To look more deeply at this context, CMC'S delegates voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to develop a strategy on Higher Education for Co‑operatives in Canada. A Task Force, composed of academics from a number of universities and co‑operative practitioners from co‑ops and federations, was formed to investigate the higher education situation for co‑operatives. The Task Force agreed a needs assessment should be conducted.

The reasons leading to the resolution and the launching of a needs assessment were further confirmed by the respondents of the needs assessment research study. 70 percent of the respondents to the members and employees survey have taken co‑op specific education or training on the co‑operative model. And 59% of those respondents stated they were generally satisfied with the program or course taken. In terms of managers and directors, 60% of interviewees have taken co‑op specific education, most of which is offered through their co‑operative (in‑house). Only 17 percent (5) of managers and directors have taken a university course with co‑operative content. This could be university programs or courses taken part time or full time, undergraduate or graduate, on‑line or in person, or of any length. For employees and members, 70 out 260 have taken a university course with co‑operative content and 71% of them are generally satisfied.

Among the members and employees who have not taken any specific education or training program or course on the co‑operative model, the most important reasons submitted are the lack of awareness of programs offered (33%), and unavailability (26%). A minority of respondents mentioned the irrelevance of a program dedicated to co‑operatives for their career (8%) or their work (10%). For managers and directors, awareness was nuanced depending on industry and region. For example, the Credit Union Directors Achievement (CUDA) program was mentioned by interviewees from credit unions, but not by anyone else. Of the university programs listed (in order of frequency IRECUS, SMU, UQAM, York, USask) many were named because of the geographic closeness to the interviewee. However, managers and directors are more familiar by far with in‑house training than programs or training offered externally.

Interestingly, 64 percent of respondents to the survey (members and employees) do feel there is a willingness to enhance co‑op knowledge and skills within their co‑operative. Also, 60 percent of respondents reported that co‑op leaders support enhancing co‑op knowledge and skills within their co‑op. In terms of managers and directors, 40% identified co‑op specific education or training would be helpful to them in order to provide a competitive edge, to internalize co‑op values and principles, to help with interpersonal issues, and to provide the basics of co‑operatives.

Given this context, what does the co‑operative sector need in terms of co‑op specific higher education and training?

This executive summary reports the results in three sections:

1. Co‑op specific education and training needs of employees and members;

2. Co‑op specific education and training needs of managers and directors;

3. Key findings and next steps towards a strategy.



This number is an approximate total formulated from a count of students in current co‑operative specific university programs.

2 Webster, A., & Walton, J. K. (2012). Introduction. Business History, 54(6), 825‑832.

3 Hancock, E. and Brault, A. (2015). The fifth principle in action: Mapping the co‑operative educational Initiatives

of Canadian co‑operatives. Centre for the Study of Co‑operatives. University of Saskatchewan.