U of C Students' Union seeks financial help from province to develop free textbooks

·4 min read
The University of Calgary Students' Union says it wants the school and the provincial government to invest in supporting the use and development of more free textbooks and course materials.  (University of Calgary - image credit)
The University of Calgary Students' Union says it wants the school and the provincial government to invest in supporting the use and development of more free textbooks and course materials. (University of Calgary - image credit)

Students and advocates at the University of Calgary are seeking financial commitments from the school and the provincial government to help them source and develop free educational resources.

Inflation and tuition increases continue to make life more expensive, students said.

The University of Calgary Students' Union (SU) says this year, students are paying more for every aspect of attending the school — tuition is up by nearly 25 per cent since 2019 and fees for recreation and student services have increased by double-digit percentages in the same time.

Then there are the increasing costs of textbooks and other educational resources, says Shaziah Jinnah Morsette, SU vice-president academic.

She says in 2018 the average student spent about $800 a year on textbooks.

"That number is much higher today...It's a larger burden on students," she said.

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Submitted

Jinnah Morsette says one way post-secondary schools and the province can help students financially is by investing in Open Educational Resources (OER): online textbooks, videos, texts and presentations that are freely available through an open copyright licence.

"The university and the government should be looking at innovative ways to reduce costs rather than to add to the burden and ultimately, one innovative way is through open education resources," she said.

These types of free resources are already being used by professors and instructors in some U of C classes, but they're not always readily available.

The SU committed to spending $500,000 (announced in 2021) over five years to create 50 new OERs — but Jinnah Morsette says that more needs to be done to support their use in Alberta.

"We've seen that in B.C. and Ontario, for example, students have saved nearly $40 million in costs in those provinces thanks to government OER initiatives," she said.

For international students Rahul Jha and Saikumar Kamthame, both from India and both taking a master of engineering, textbooks have cost them about $500 already this semester — and any way to save a few dollars would be welcomed.

"It's definitely more expensive to be international as we have to pay twice or thrice of what local students pay [in tuition] and then we have a limitation of how many hours we can work per week, so we can only work 20 hours a week and we need to manage our living expenses and other things as well," Jha said.

"If any of our books were available online and open source, it would be a great help to us."

Keshawn Olasiji, a second year economics student, says this year many of his classes are already using OERs because existing textbooks were considered "too outdated," and that's meant about $1,000 in savings for him.

He'd like to see that trend continue into all programs and courses.

"Who doesn't want free books? I think it would help a lot of students have more funds to cover things like dorms or rent or being able to do things like park on campus — that's expensive," he said.

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

Third year biochemistry student Angela Situ says she used to spend hundreds of dollars a year on textbooks, but now she does everything she can to avoid it.

"It became too expensive," she said.

Instead, she scourers the Internet for open resources, YouTube videos and attends office hours with her professors to access free materials.

Situ says she volunteers at the school to help first year students and one of the most common questions she gets is if they should actually buy textbooks.

"I tell them that if they can find it on other websites for free or can get it from another student they should do that first," she said, adding that she's shared and given textbooks away to students in the years below her.

In an email, the university said it knows that when incorporated into teaching, OERs decrease financial barriers and enhance student learning and engagement.

The university said it endeavours to continue investing in OERs into the future "to support the learning and teaching needs of our students and staff."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Minister of Advanced Demetrios Nicolaides said it is stated in the Alberta 2030 strategy that the province is supportive of expanding OERs including course materials and textbooks.

He would not say what exactly they are committed to spending or where that work is at.

"We're open to working with Alberta's post-secondary institutions to determine the best ways to support developing these tools for students," Nicolaides said.