B.C. government to make some textbooks available free online

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Includes textbooks from 40 of the most popular post-secondary courses in the province

Veronika Bondarenko
The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia)

VANCOUVER (CUP) — The B.C. government wants to offer online textbooks for free to university students, but there’s still a fair bit of homework to do before the project becomes a reality.

The B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education plans to commission textbook authors or developers to put together online textbooks for popular undergraduate courses. As a condition of funding, they’ll be available through a Creative Commons licence that makes them free for anyone to use, reuse and revise. A nonprofit called BCcampus, acting as an agent of the government, will store the textbooks online.

The ministry has promised to offer free online textbooks for 40 of the most popular post-secondary courses in the province, but it’s up to professors to decide what textbooks are assigned within specific courses.

If all goes according to plan, some of the books will be available by September 2013.

After looking at data from B.C. schools and similar projects in Washington and California, the ministry will decide which courses will get free books. They expect to commission books for first-year courses like English, psychology and calculus.

The BCcampus organization, a 10-year-old publicly funded group, exists to create online shared services and resources for universities and colleges in B.C. CUPE locals across B.C. have railed against any “shared services” plans promoted by the province, arguing that they may result in lost jobs.


“Different institutions, and even different professors within the same institution, use different textbooks for courses that cover the same broad subject matter. The exact textbook choice is up to the professor … This is why collaboration and coordination with post-secondary institutions is essential to the success of this system.” – Kiran Mahal


The government argues that the free textbooks will save over 200,000 students hundreds of dollars per year, but Debbie Harvie, managing director of the UBC Bookstore, said she’ll wait and see whether this plan will cut into Bookstore sales.

“We don’t yet know the effect of this announcement, except to say that there are not a lot of ‘free’ materials available at this point,” said Harvie.

“I am waiting to hear more specifics so that I can understand how this could affect the Bookstore. In the meantime, we are, of course, selling e-textbooks when we can get them, as well as new [and] used [textbooks], custom course packs and renting books too.”

Kiran Mahal, vice-president academic and university affairs of the Alma Mater Society – AMS – at UBC, agreed that free access to online textbooks would help make post-secondary education cheaper.

“Different institutions, and even different professors within the same institution, use different textbooks for courses that cover the same broad subject matter,” said Mahal. “The exact textbook choice is up to the professor … This is why collaboration and coordination with post-secondary institutions is essential to the success of this system.”

Mahal also stressed that the quest to make higher education more affordable should not end at textbooks.

“More needs to be done around funding of higher education in a more consistent and holistic way, from student loan reform to increasing the block grant provided to public institutions like UBC,” Mahal said.

2 comments

  1. BookGator 2 November, 2012 at 04:25

    It's important that students get the help of the government in terms of lowering the cost of textbook or making textbooks available for students for free through grants by government provided to authors and publishers. I really think that the government has to step up to prevent students from leaving schools due to extremely expensively textbooks.

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