Students' Union Advocacy

Q: Why are textbooks so expensive in the first place?

A: While authors receive a portion of the revenue from textbooks, publishers have predatory practises that force high costs on students. Constantly changing editions limits the sale of used books, and bundling textbooks with supplemental online material like access codes reduces the overall value of the books. Publishers will also lobby instructors by providing them with free copies or assignments and online activities which save them time. SU studies have shown that textbook costs have grown at 290% the rate of inflation since 1995.

Q: What can I do to help?

A: As a student, check out these tips to save yourself money. Most importantly, start a dialogue with your professors about the cost of academic materials - let them know how it impacts you and what you prefer. Even include it in the comments of your professor evaluations. As a professor, take the time to work with the Bookstore to find low-cost quality options for your students. If you're interested in advancing the dialogue locally and internationally on textbook costs, email vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca.

Q: Why do students care about the cost of textbooks?

A: Students are expected to spend 7800 on their education per year, and textbooks form 15% of this cost. Given that half of students carry debt, and on average $24,500 of it, saving on the cost of textbooks gives students more money to cover their living expenses.

Q: What has the SU done to help reduce the costs of textbooks?

A: In 1995, survey data showed that over 90% of students were dissatisfied with the cost of textbooks. In following years, the SU lobbied for greater oversight over the campus Bookstore, and created customized coursepacks. Provost Doug Owram crated the Bookstore Advisory Group, which became defunct in the late 2000s, but was restarted in 2011. In 2008 and 2009 the SU was active in national roundtables on academic materials, including the NART and CRAM conferences. The SU has consistently advocated for lower margins and a more efficient Bookstore, since any additional costs are passed on to students. The SU submission to the current Bookstore strategic plan can be found here.

Q: What role do professors play in reducing the costs of textbooks?

A: Students only have to buy textbooks if your instructor orders one. They can choose to use library materials, open access works, coursepacks, eBooks, or eClass resources. Some professors may not be aware of how much money students are spending on textbooks. If you wish, talk to your instructors about ways they can reduce the costs of textbooks for students.

Q: Is the SU advocating for eliminating textbook use at the University?

A: No. 96% of students think that thorough and helpful academic materials are important to the academic experience. 78% of students say that they know they'll do worse in class if they can't purchase their textbooks. The SU is advocating for both students and professors to be smart book purchasers - to consider value and alternatives. The SU is actively advocating for ways to reduce the costs to students including increasing accessibility of eBooks, development of open educational resources, and by producing course packs at low costs for students.

We'll be posting more FAQs in the coming weeks -- be sure to check back!

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Students' Union Executive and Administrative Offices
Room 2-900
Students' Union Building
University of Alberta
8900 - 114 Street NW
Edmonton, AB
T6G 2J7