British Columbia

B.C. university eliminates cost of textbooks from 6 programs

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has designed programs entirely around online textbooks with open licences.

Kwantlen has designed programs entirely around online textbooks with open licences

The cost of books for courses such as anatomy or economics can often be more than $400. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A B.C. university has added a sixth program to a growing list of programs that students can complete without buying a single textbook.

Students enrolled in Kwantlen Polytechnic University's one-year certificate design program will now use library materials and open textbooks, which are authored by faculty and peer-reviewed like a traditional textbook but are published with an open licence.

About 90 per cent of B.C. universities already use open textbooks, which can be accessed online. But Kwantlen says it has designed programs entirely around the free resources, known as zero textbook cost programs.

The B.C. Federation of Students says textbook costs are a serious obstacle to accessing post-secondary education in the province. Books for courses such as anatomy or economics often run upwards of $400.

Kwantlen, which has campuses in Langley, Richmond and Surrey, says it has saved students $2.2 million in textbook costs since introducing the programs in early 2018.

"We're talking about higher education as a vehicle for economic and social mobility," Rajiv Jhangiani, Kwantlen's associate vice-provost of open education, told CBC's On The Coast.

"We need to be attentive to the fact that access needs to be equitable."

Fewer students dropping out

In 2017, Jhangiani co-authored a study that surveyed 320 students in 22 B.C. universities.

Fifty-four per cent of students reported not buying all the required textbooks. Twenty-seven per cent said they took fewer courses based on textbook costs, while 17 per cent reported dropping a course because of costly textbooks.

Jhangiani said courses with no textbook costs report higher grade point averages and fewer students who drop out.

Faculty also find the shift practical. Textbooks editions typically cycle every three years, rendering textbooks out of date. But teaching staff can quickly update open-licensed textbooks with important, new research, Jhangiani said.

Authors are still paid, but receive a lump sum when the book is openly licensed. Authors of traditional textbooks receive royalties over time from student purchases.

At Kwantlen, the author funding mainly comes from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, which introduced the open textbook program in 2012.

With files from CBC's On The Coast