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Textbook troubles: University of Calgary students want help paying for course materials


Inside the University of Calgary Students' Union used bookstore, first-year nursing student Harman Khosa is looking for a biology text.

If she has to buy it new, it will set her back $300.
“It's not even an optional, so it's required on top of the presentation,” said Khosa, who is hoping to pick up a used copy for about a third of the price.
“For the labs that you have to go for, you have to spend extra on the materials that you need for the labs plus the books.”
Third-year student Elizabeth Buckley, who aims to become a veterinarian, says the cost of books is tough to bear.
“I think the most expensive one I bought for $250. And I think it was a chemistry textbook,” said Buckley.
“It's a barrier for some people. I know that, like myself, I take out student loans, and I have to take out more student loans than what I would want to, because I don't have my own financial ability to pay for my own textbooks.”
That means eventually, she will be paying interest on the loans used to buy, in part, her textbooks.
A group of students at the University of Calgary is pushing for something to be done about the immense price they have to pay for textbooks and other required course materials.
The University of Calgary Students’ Union (SU) says 85 per cent of students polled in a 2021 survey identified the cost of textbooks as a source of financial stress and hardship. 
2017 article from Maclean's magazine found students at the U of C were paying an average of $773 for textbooks.
That's in addition to tuition – which the SU says jumped by at least 25 per cent from 2019 – plus fees for student services, recreation and athletics.
"Students aren’t just broke, they’re at a breaking point," SU spokesperson Shaziah Jinnah Morsette said.
“Affordability is such an issue for students. It's not just isolated to saying, 'Can we afford to participate and receive a quality education?'" said Morsette.
"Education is important. And we must remember, even once those students are accessing it, they're struggling with food insecurity, they're struggling with mental health challenges, all compounded by the pandemic.
"All of this compounds onto each other, to leave students in a position where they are wondering if they should buy that textbook or save that money so they can feed themselves for that month."
The SU is advocating for Alberta to fund open educational resources (OER) to help struggling students.
"OERs are any type of teaching, learning and research resource, from textbooks to presentations, that are free and openly available through an open copyright licence like Creative Commons to allow for repurposing and sharing of OERs by others," according to the SU.
In 2021, the SU committed $500,000 to support the development of OERs, creating up to 50 new OERs over five years.
The SU argues that while provincial funding in Ontario and British Columbia have led to millions in savings, Alberta "lags behind" in supporting OERs.
"While the Alberta 2030 initiative mentions OERs, it is unclear what action the province will take to catch up to comparator provinces like Ontario and B.C.," Morsette said.
"What is clear is that students cannot continue to wait for real action. That’s why we have partnered with our university library on our own OER project to support OER use and development."
The University of Calgary’s vice-provost of teaching and learning, Leslie Reid, says the school is working to develop and implement more OERs in its classes.
She says to really accelerate their implementation, there needs to be a province-wide plan.
“We'd love to engage in conversations with our ministry of advanced education ... (and to) find a way to network with other post-secondary educators across the province,” said Reid.
“When we look to provinces who have really expanded and grown the use of OERs, they have done that through a co-ordinated infrastructure where each campus is able to really easily network with what all the other campuses are doing.”


In a statement to CTV News, Alberta's advanced education minister, Demetrios Nicolaides, said the provincial government is supportive of expanding OERs for course materials and textbooks.
"We’re open to working with Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to determine the best ways to support developing these tools for students," the statement reads.
"At the same time, we’ll continue making investments so that Alberta’s post-secondary students are able to access financial aid and assistance to support their studies."
—With files from Melissa Gilligan Top Stories

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