Textbook conference addresses student gripes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Textbook prices are the bane of most students’ existence; the sky-high prices of new editions induce ulcers and empty wallets.

A national conference on textbook prices provides some hope students’ textbook gripes will be addressed.

Before the winter break David Simmonds, VP-university affairs for the University Students’ Council, took part in a national conference on textbook prices " the first of its kind.

Students, publishers, bookstores and university administrators attended the conference aimed to address some of the larger problems students run into when buying academic materials at university.

“One of the things that came out of the conference ... was that students have never been acknowledged in the textbook industry as the primary consumer of textbooks,” Simmonds said. “I think [this leads] to a lot of misunderstanding and misdirection with price inflation or with the compounding of prices on academic materials.”

The use of supplemental materials is one of the factors increasing textbook costs, he explained. “The instructor receives a free huge 16-item package when they teach Biology 020, and the student pays for them to get that.

“The student also pays for the marketing and sale of those textbooks, so every time the publisher goes to a different campus ... the student is paying,” Simmonds added.

He also felt supplemental materials covered up a larger problem with modern universities. He noticed his third and fourth-year course textbook prices were much lower than first-year courses, partially because first-year instructors are often not tenured faculty members.

“[First-year instructors] are part-time or sessional instructors who don’t have the time to design a course around their area of expertise " they have to do a survey course,” Simmonds said.

“So they need the CD-ROMs, the course instructor pack and all these other supplementary items in order to teach the course.

“The problem for me ... is the fact that we have overworked and overburdened course instructors,” he said.

One thing that is clear is the need for the public sector to be included in future meetings, Simmonds said.

“The textbook issue is just another example of the way that our entire education system isn’t assessing or addressing the needs of students and faculty at the university and college level,” he concluded.

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