Tired of pricey required reads, cash-strapped students push for low-cost, 'open-access' textbooks

Landon Tulk of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance at Western University says free peer-reviewed textbooks will be a huge cost savings for cash-strapped students.
Landon Tulk, vice president finance at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). He's championing the #textbookbroke campaign, pushing for license-free textbooks as a significant cost savings for post-secondary students. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News)

It's a hallmark of student life, along with late-night study sessions and stressing over exams.

But some post-secondary students across the country are pushing back against the high cost of textbooks.

#TextbookBroke is a campaign adopted by several student bodies at post-secondary institutions including London's Western University.

The idea is to make required educational textbooks "open-access" — published with an open licence and downloadable by students at little to no cost.

Landon Tulk is the vice-president of the University Students' Council at Western, and vice-president finance at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

"So many students are coming back this semester, saying 'Is this required textbook really worth $200, $300 or $400?" he told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

"That could pay for my rent for the next month, or my groceries for the next four to six weeks." 

Quality control

When asked whether he's concerned open-sourced textbook could be of a lower quality than those released by a commercial publisher, Tulk points to initiatives in other provinces, such as BCcampus in British Columbia, where faculty members work with the provincial government to review textbooks before they are introduced into the classroom.

"The quality of textbooks is either remaining the same or, in some instances, superior to the initial quality. Open-source textbooks are still going through the same peer-review process as traditional textbooks."

Listen to the full interview below.