After tuition, food, and rent, textbooks are the next biggest expense for students. Every year students shell out roughly $1,200 for textbooks, but what do we get out of it?
I’ve been listening to students since launching my campaign for President of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union in March 2013, and what I’ve heard is that they feel like they are being ripped off after buying their textbooks — and rightly so. The system we have now doesn’t work.
Students generally aren’t rolling in the dough when they come to university and, to be frank, don’t have money to waste. But so often this is what happens: we buy a $400 textbook and read one chapter for the class for which the textbook was supposedly needed. Students are fed up.
That’s why this year the USSU is focusing on real solutions for reducing the cost of textbooks that work for students, faculty and government. We need to take the business of knowledge distribution into the 21st century and that’s why I’m proposing an open-textbook program be brought to the U of S.
Open-textbook programs allow textbooks to be put online for students and professors to access for free. That’s right — free!
These textbooks are published under creative commons licenses, which means that professors can add content that is more relevant to their classes, or take things out that don’t make sense for the classes they’re teaching without breaking traditional copyright laws.
No more Ontario-centric examples for our Saskatchewan classrooms. A calculus text that is regularly $200 could be under $30 — if not free — for a printed copy under an open-textbook program. This will collectively save students hundreds of thousands of dollars and allow for more local content to be taught in U of S classes. This is a win-win for everybody.
If you think this is too idealistic or will never happen, think again. Many jurisdictions in the U.S. already have open-textbook programs, including California, Washington and Utah. Closer to home, the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education announced that it would make free online textbooks available for the 40 most popular courses in the province — a first in Canada.
The U of S has a unique moment here to show goodwill towards students who are becoming increasingly skeptical of administration and government alike in this climate of austerity.
TransformUS is coming and it likely won’t be something many are going to appreciate. Students need to see in the coming months, while programs are being evaluated and positions terminated, that the university and provincial government are committed to looking for ways to not only save the university money but also save students money.
Our university and Saskatchewan as a province can be leaders in accessible education. But to convince them, they need to hear from students.
From Oct. 21–25 the USSU will be hosting #DontGougeUs — a week long event to show the government and administration that the current textbook system isn’t working and that there are alternatives out there. Open-textbooks are a worthwhile endeavor.
But for administration or government to listen, the USSU needs student support. We’re going to have a petition asking the provincial government to work with the university to implement an open-textbook program. As such, the USSU will be asking you what you’d do with the money you usually spend on textbooks if we had the program here and encouraging you to tweet #DontGougeUs, call and email professors, deans, the provincial government and the president of the U of S.
B.C. has done all the heavy lifting — there are open-textbooks in fine arts, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences that could be implemented next semester if professors chose to incorporate them into their classes. And with the help of government and administration we can develop textbooks for agriculture, engineering, education and any other college or major.
Students are not being unreasonable here. We can do better for students and I’m certainly committed to this policy. It’s sensible and would have a very real impact in the lives of students from all demographics.
Having the university and province take students seriously is the ultimate challenge we face.
We can all agree with the U of S’s Third Integrated Plan when it says “we envision our university to be one of Canada’s most distinguished,” but we need to take the right steps forward.
I think we can be one of Canada’s most distinguished universities and implementing an open-textbook program is the first step in getting there.
Graphic: Mike Tremblay