Open Education Resources Reduce Cost to Post-Secondary

| Chantelle Spicer | In the coming years, students in British Columbia will hopefully be saving some money and having access to more innovative resources due to the work of BCcampus. The Crown corporation, funded primarily through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training, works to provide teaching, learning, educational technology, and open education support to the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia.

The organisation announced this year that student savings on textbook costs have reached approximately $10 million – and the savings continue to grow each year. Programs like Zed-Cred that exist at Thompson Rivers University and Kwantlen Polytechnic focus on reducing costs to post-secondary education by enabling students to earn a credential such as a certificate program or associate degree with zero textbook costs.

At Selkirk College, adoption of open education resources has been slower.

Chief Librarian Gregg Currie states that “we are more than happy to do anything we can support more open education resources, but it’s the professor’s choice to use this material – we need are more early adopters here to lead the way. We have a few, but without that critical mass, it is more of a challenge to make change.”

The Selkirk Library holds 55,000 books, rights to 45,000 journals, and a few million full-text articles that can be accessed through the Selkirk Library catalogue, but there are concerns about the trend in how institutions and students can gain access to knowledge and resources.

“In terms of open access there are increasingly more journals that can be accessed. However, for some fields like the bulk of scientific publishing for instance, 50% of that knowledge is held by five publishers.”

This limited access is compounded by regular cuts to institutional funding related to library resources.

“My budget for acquiring new materials has been flat since 2011, though prices go up 7% each year, every year so we are essentially buying 30% fewer resources than I was previously. I understand what students are going through. When I try to buy textbooks for the library reserve, it is painfully obvious to me how expensive it is for students – sometimes it can be $1,000 a semester.”

There is hope for open education resources beginning to shift post-secondary away from the corporate structures of publishing companies and college budget cuts. 

“The nice thing about open education resources is that it is in the spirit of intellectual inquiry moving forward in a free and open manner. That’s the danger of where we are now – five companies own access to half of the world’s knowledge. This concentrated access in very few hands at a very high cost is not a good thing. And smaller institutions like Selkirk are being left behind by pricing models.”

Yasmine Monrose, who is attending Selkirk in the Post Graduate Business Administration program, describes the access to textbooks is another barrier to education outside of the cost of education itself.

“When I am unable to afford the books I have to loan them from the library over night in order to be able to do my assignment. Usually it’s strain. In addition, the library has recently discontinue being able to use some book in reserve overnight. I do not know if this was intentional but I guess it’s a way of forcing students to purchase the text from the book store.”

It is not just within the classroom that increasing expensive and proprietary textbooks impact on students.

“Sometimes buying textbooks means not being able to eat properly for a month,” Monrose explains. “It limits what I can purchase from the supermarket.”

The BC Federation of Students voted unanimously at the July 2018 Semi-Annual General Meeting to donate $30,000 to BCcampus. Increased Ministry funding to the organisation was also recommended in the Federation’s government lobby document for the BC Budget 2019.