UPEI launches pilot program for free textbooks

UPEI has launched a pilot program that will allow professors to create textbooks that students can access for free, over the internet.

'This just ensures that education is accessible to everybody regardless of income'

Students can pay to get their book printed and bound at the Robertson Library. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Some students at UPEI will be spending less on their textbooks each semester. 

The university has launched a pilot program that aims to encourage professors to put their textbooks online, making them free to access for students.   

Professors can apply to get funding for developing, adapting a book into an online format, or peer-reviewing other online textbooks. The province has contributed $25,000 for the project.

Students will be able to access, download and use those books, free of charge. The library can also print a downloaded book and bind it. Costs for that range from $30 to $50 depending on size. 

It's an initiative the UPEI Student Union has been working on for the past number of years, said Sweta Daboo, vice-president of the union. 

'Education is accessible'

"This was a priority that we brought to government in 2016, and then in 2018 students again identified this as a priority in terms of affordability," she said. 

Daboo said she's heard the cost of books can play a role in what courses students end up taking.

'This just ensures that education is accessible to everybody regardless of income,' says Daboo. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"We've had a couple of cases where students … didn't know the textbook was going to cost a bit of money so they drop out of the class," she said.

"This just ensures that education is accessible to everybody regardless of income."

The project will be run by Kim Mears, a librarian at UPEI. She said she hears from students about the concerns of the price tag that comes with higher education.

Some courses at the university already offer materials for free. 

"For instance, first-year psychology which has around 500 to 600 students enrolled every year," said Daboo. "If you think of $100 as being the cost of a book then that's a pretty big chunk of money that we're talking about there in direct savings for students."

And that's the direction that Mears hopes the pilot project goes in.

"We would love to see the courses that have the highest enrolment use open textbooks because that would have the highest impact that would help the most amount of students." 


Mears said people concerned over the quality and legitimacy of the textbooks don't need to be.

"That's far from the truth," she said. "A lot of open textbooks are peer-reviewed by faculty and experts in the field."

Professors 'know that the quality of the material is just as good as a press book or a traditional textbook,' says Mears. (Travis Kingdon/CBC )

As a part of this pilot program, UPEI professors will be able to use that grant money to peer review publications, ensuring their quality and accuracy.  

And the professors who are already using the new resources have been very receptive to them, said Mears. 

"They know that the quality of the material is just as good as a press book or a traditional textbook," she said.  

"They were very happy to help students afford university."

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