As legions of British Columbians start adulthood saddled with tens of thousands in student debt while facing limited career opportunities, the province has taken a small step toward lowering costs.
Although the provincial government is criticized for not providing enough post-secondary funding, a plan to provide free online textbooks may help relieve some of the pressure as upwards of $800 per term can be spent on reading material.
This week the province announced that 15 online textbooks are now freely available for download from BCcampus.ca in subjects such as math, chemistry, marketing, psychology and business.
However the plan may have its drawbacks. When initially proposed, it rankled proponents of academic freedom who said it could restrict a professor’s choice of reading material.
“Anything that’s going to save money is obviously an advantage,” said Tom Friedman, Thompson Rivers University English instructor and member of an academic freedom and tenure committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
“The worry I would have is if these options are being imposed by publishers or other groups other than experts in the field. The professionals should be the ones making that decision.”
The province is not requiring instructors to assign the free books.
They’re being put forward as “another option” for faculty who “ultimately choose the textbooks they wish,” according to a provincial release.
After being posted on BCcampus.ca, the 15 textbooks were reviewed by 38 instructors and professors from post-secondary institutions around B.C.
Some instructors at Langara College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University are now assigning the reading material, according to the release.
It’s more common for colleagues teaching sciences or business, for example, to agree collectively on textbooks since classes may complement one another, said Friedman.
The arts department is a different story however, he said.
“We’ve never tried to decide collectively on a single text,” he said of his own department’s experience.
The province said even if online material is not used as the primary text for a course, students can use them as supplementary learning resources.
They are also available to anyone with an interest in the subject.