Education is expensive. Post-secondary students today face ever-increasing financial burdens as they seek to train themselves for careers and productive lives.
Tuition continues to increase, as does the cost of living. Many students graduate today with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, which makes a proposal from the provincial government to reduce the costs of some textbooks all the more meaningful.
The idea could see many entry-level textbooks in specific first- and second-year university courses made available to students as ebooks. Such online books would allow students to download the reading and even make a physical copy should they desire to spend the money.
Educators believe the effort will help struggling students better succeed in the early stages of their academic careers. Instead of needing to choose between food and learning, students may be able to do both.
"If a student relies on loans for funding and they don't receive their cheque at the beginning of the semester, they may not buy the text they need and will start the course without a critical resource," Brian Lamb, Thompson River University's director of innovation, told The Daily News. "By mid-semester, they may be too far behind to catch up. It seems like a small thing, but it can be a significant factor in student success."
In past years, many students have complained about the costs of books required for courses. Texts can be expensive and professors often require students to purchase the latest revisions, meaning students cannot easily recoup the investment by selling pre-owned copies to others.
Of course, there is the issue of compensation to authors and publishers. Many textbooks represent the work and thinking of prominent academics or experts in specific fields. Textbooks may not be developed or written if those behind the effort cannot see return on their work.
For advanced or higher level courses, perhaps it is important to see students pay for textbooks to ensure those writing important academic textbooks continue to do so. But many lower level courses involve established texts with little, if any revision required, making the economic argument harder to justify.
The task for B.C.'s post-secondary system - one that began Tuesday as an advisory committee met in Vancouver - is to decide which books should be free. Let's hope more books than fewer will end up on the list.
When students benefit, society benefits. There is something in this for all of us.
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