In this article I take as my starting point the economist, Jeremy Rifkin's, claims about the rise of what he calls the ‘collaborative commons’. For Rifkin, this is nothing less than the emergence of a new economic paradigm where traditional consumers exploit the possibilities of technology, and position themselves as ‘pro-sumers’. This emphasises their role in production rather than consumption alone, and shows how they aim to bypass a range of capitalist markets, from publishing to the music industry. In asking how education is situated in relation to the collaborative commons, I consider the growth in technology-driven, cost-negative services as a response to the current market in higher education. This raises the issue of what we mean by ‘collaboration’ in the university, and how this might be different from, for example, cooperation or teamwork. In seeking to provide a richer conception of collaboration in higher education, I look to Martin Buber's concept of the relational act and the life of dialogue, and to some of the seminal work of Ronald Barnett on the philosophy and economics of higher education. The article suggests that these concepts afford a new perspective on collaboration that amount to a new economics for education. Such economics require a radical shift in how we perceive the role of responsibility, reciprocity and the educative possibilities of conversation.