OERs rising to combat textbook prices

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The start of the school year finds students once again facing the cost of textbooks required for their education. With an average cost of $200 per book, students are struggling with how to pay the high costs for mandatory materials.

“As if record-high tuition fees weren’t bad enough, publishing companies are gouging students with unreasonable textbook prices,” said Aran Armutlu, Chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students. “These days it’s common to pay $200 to $300 per textbook—but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

The sticker shock of textbook prices is a generational issue, rising year after year with inflation. While most fees a student pays –such as tuition– are regulated by government levels, textbook fees are determined by the publishing industry. A well-known frustration is the act of editing books with minimal changes, making previous editions classified as “outdated” and sometimes unacceptable to use in courses. The continual rise in price has students struggling with ways to access the material, prompting illegal downloads, copying of materials, and students opting out of buying the textbook altogether. This leads to students struggling in the classroom to properly understand what is being covered.

BCcampus, a government agency focused on innovation in BC’s post-secondary system, reports that 26 percent of students choose to not register for a course due to the price of required textbooks. BCcampus was tasked with creating the Open Textbook Project in 2012 by the BC government. Open Education Resources (OERs) have since saved students over $8 million by creating free and openly accessible textbook options.

Textbooks, journals, course materials, and modules have been collected into these open access resources. The items are peer-reviewed and available online for free or students can print the materials off.

The BC Federation of Students is calling for action. They are asking the BC government to invest $5 million in BCcampus and the Open Textbook Project. This would allow for the development of more textbooks, course materials, and teaching materials for instructor use. Student Unions across BC are working to encourage faculty associations and administrators to adopt the use of OERs in their classes.

“The initial 2012 investment from the government has gone a long way to creating OERs in BC,” said Armutlu. “Another investment of only $5 million would launch the Open Textbook Project forward leaps and bounds, and would save students millions of dollars over just a few years.”