Following province-wide consultations, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services reported funding, access, and affordability as key themes discussed throughout Committee submissions. The Committee’s Report, published Thursday, makes recommendations that reflect students’ calls for improved financial assistance as well as necessary funding for institutions.

“As if record-high tuition fees weren’t bad enough, publishing companies are gouging students with unreasonable textbook prices,” said Aran Armutlu, Chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS). “These days it’s common to pay $200 to $300 per textbook — but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Open education resources (OERs) are a viable alternative to traditional, expensive textbooks. OERs are open access resources that include textbooks, journals, course materials and modules. They are peer-reviewed and available online for free or can be printed by students at low-cost.

The Report recommends that the government allocate an additional $5 million to BCcampus (the government agency tasked with OER development and support) to maintain existing open textbook resources and continue creating new resources. This recommendation mirrors the call of the BCFS for funding for OER development.

According to BCcampus, 26% of students choose to not register for a course due to the cost of the textbooks. In 2012 the BC government tasked BCcampus with creating the Open TextbookProject. Since then, OERs have saved students nearly $9 million by creating free and openly accessible textbook and coursework options.

“The initial government investment has gone a long way to creating OERs in BC,” said Armutlu. “Another investment of only $5 million would launch BCcampus’ Open TextbookProject forward leaps and bounds, and would save students millions of dollars over just a few years.”  

The Finance Committee’s Report also includes recommendations for the elimination of interest on student loans, increased operational funding for institutions, supporting on-campus reconciliation and indigenization efforts, and the development of a new strategic approach to international education. It also recommends a review of completion grants and up-front needs-based grants models with the aim of ensuring post-secondary students have access to the most beneficial and impactful support.

“A reallocation and investment of resources towards upfront grants would create a model where those students with the greatest need have access to those funds,” said Armutlu. “If we want to increase the accessibility of our classrooms, we must first give students the means to get through the door in the first place.”