How one Canadian chemistry class paid more than a quarter-million dollars for copies of a single textbook
Tom Spears
Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Recently this newspaper looked at the problem of the sky-high cost of university textbooks, especially for science students.

Blame the students themselves, publishers suggested. Kids these days want it all - nice colours, big charts, and CD-ROMs tucked inside the cover, raising prices well above the $100-per-book mark.

They conveniently didn’t provide any evidence that students have ever actually asked for these things. And they never really addressed why universities that used to offer the science kids five courses a year are now making them take 10 half-courses instead - with, wouldn’t you know it, a very slightly updated edition of the text appearing in January so that the old ones have no resale value.

One’s attention has to turn to a second-year chemistry course at the University of Western Ontario. Its professor has told students this is the world’s biggest organic chemistry class in the world, and the 1,300 students have good reason to believe him.

The main textbook costs precisely $200. Multiply by 1,300 and you get total spending of $260,000, for ONE book, for ONE class, for ONE-HALF of an undergraduate course.

Sure, they’re paying a premium for the CD-ROM. But, surprise! Students report that more than half the texts are missing the CD-ROM. Oops. No, there’s no discount.

Of course, Western's chemistry class doesn’t get off that cheaply. There’s a further $101 in costs for the lab manual and other essentials. Total bill for a single half-course: $301.

Tuition, naturally, is extra.

© Ottawa Citizen 2004