Students fight back against sky-high textbook costs

Students across the province are returning to college and university campuses today and experiencing what many might not expect: sticker shock from the cost of their textbooks. With textbook prices commonly in the range of $200 per book, students are beginning to fight back.

“As if record-high tuition fees weren’t bad enough, publishing companies are gouging students with unreasonable textbook prices,” says 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 cost of textbooks and course materials has long been a financial challenge for students. Unlike tuition fees and other fees charged by institutions, the cost of textbooks is not regulated by the government but rather controlled by the publishing industry. Constantly changing editions and skyrocketing prices have put many required textbooks beyond the reach of students, often forcing them to access course materials by improperly downloading and copying, or struggling without the book in the classroom.

According to the government agency BCcampus, 26 percent of students choose to not register for a course due to the cost of the textbooks. In 2012 the BC government tasked BCcampus with creating the Open Textbook Project. Since then, Open Education Resources (OERs) have saved students over $8 million by creating free and openly accessible textbook options.

OERs are open access resources that include textbooks, journals, course materials and modules, as well as other materials. They are peer-reviewed and available online for free or can be printed by students at low-cost.

The BC Federation of Students is calling on the BC government to invest $5 million in BCcampus for the Open Textbook Project. The investment will allow for the development of more textbooks, course materials, and teaching materials to assist instructors. Students’ unions at colleges and universities across BC are working with faculty associations and administrators to encourage the adoption of OERs in their classes.

“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,” says Armutlu.

The BC Federation of Students represents over 130,000 students at 13 universities and colleges in every region of BC. Together, these students advocate for a well-funded system of post-secondary education in BC that is affordable and accessible for all students.