Next to tuition, textbooks have always been one of the most expensive aspects of attending university. The biggest complaint from publishers is students buying and selling used books instead of purchasing new copies. In recent years though, publishers have started integrating online content with their book publishings as a way to augment the physical offerings. These online resources, made available through access codes provided with new books, means each student has to come back to the publisher whether they bought a new or used book. Textbook publishers have been ripping off students as far back as anyone can remember, and this business model allows the publisher to make money off students even if they have a second hand book.
These access codes would be perfectly acceptable if students who want to take advantage of the supplementary material could choose to pay to access it. These resources start to extort money from students when a school requires students to use this online resource in order to obtain marks required for the successful completion of a course. As it stands, students can choose whether they want to buy the textbook or not because there is nothing directly connecting their mark to their purchase of the book. By having to purchase these access codes in order to access course material there is a direct connection between a students choice to purchase the access code and their mark in the course. This type of fee is classified by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities as a compulsory non-tuition related ancillary fee.
Section 5.2 of the Ontario Operating Grants Distribution Manual outlines that the “requirement that students purchase access to online applications in order to access online assignments, tests and/or examinations that are required for the successful completion of a credit course… fall into the category of tuition-related compulsory ancillary fees”. Per ministry guidelines these tuition-related compulsory ancillary fees “should be paid out of operating revenue [of the university], and students should not be required to purchase these applications”.
Unfortunately universities don’t seem to pay attention to these instructions as they are still forcing students to buy into this illegal practice. The University of Windsor is one of the few schools that has been confronted by this requirement, and was forced to refund 3000 students around $70 each in compensation. Unfortunately the majority of schools seem to be content to proceed as though they are not subject to these guidelines, and will continue to do so until students hold the schools and publishing companies accountable for this extortion.