Students at the University of Alberta access class materials in various ways. Some buy online or through the U of A Bookstore, while others frequent Facebook Marketplace to buy used books. In many classes, open educational resources (OER) are posted on eClass, which are free to access.
Right now, the university is considering implementing the Academic Materials Program (AMP), also known as an inclusive or equitable access program. With AMP, undergraduate students would digitally access materials on the first day of class. All students would pay the same fee semesterly, no matter the field of study, with the option to opt-out. As well, students would lose access to class materials after the semester ends.
The predicted cost per semester is $300, according to U of A Student’s Union (UASU) Vice-president (academic) Pedro Almeida. When AMP was first brought to Student’s Council in June, The Gateway reported that similar programs in the United States (US) average from $260-400 CAD per semester.
On October 10, Students’ Council unanimously opposed the implementation of AMP. For implementation, AMP only needs approval from the Office of the Provost and Vice-president (academic) and the vice-president (facilities and operations).
AMP currently waiting on request for proposal, U of A Bookstore manager hopes to have more answers by end-of-year
According to the U of A Bookstore manager and vice-president (facilities and operations) Adam Medaglia, the benefits of AMP are “affordability and convenience.”
“AMP would give students the most affordable option to obtain their required course materials,” Medaglia said. He added that all course materials would be accessible on the first day of classes for students participating in AMP. However, any physical course materials available on the market “would not be purchasable at the bookstore.”
There is continuous consultation happening, Medaglia said. Right now, the university is waiting on a request for proposal (RFP) before next steps are decided.
A RFP is a document that asks potential vendors, such as textbook vendors, to bid on supplying their services. Any approved bids will impact the fee students pay for resources. The university will review the proposals and decide whether or not to accept any bids.
Medaglia reiterated that AMP is “just a different way of delivery for the students that want required course materials.”
“So instead of them buying one and having to pay full price, we’re able to get all of the required course materials for one low price.”
UASU officially opposes AMP, program “doesn’t get to the heart of student’s needs” UASU vice-president (academic) says
Almeida prepared a report stating the UASU’s position on AMP. It outlines the UASU’s reasonings for opposing AMP, as well as further recommendations.
“Textbook costs are rising and that is an issue for students,” Almeida said. “However, AMP doesn’t get to the heart of student’s needs. It ultimately would rely on average textbook costs, as opposed to addressing the real issue, which is publishers increasing the cost of textbooks for students.”
One issue with AMP, according to Almeida, is that it doesn’t address required course materials that aren’t textbooks. This includes items like stethoscopes and fundamental arts kits. This results in some students subsidizing the cost for others, which is a “failure of creating equal conditions across the board.”
The UASU’s report addresses AMP’s list of reasons of why it would benefit the university. One reason AMP gave is it would prevent confusion and stress when getting class materials. Almeida said that although it could address stress at the beginning of the year, AMP “benefits from the confusion of students [who] don’t know to opt-out in time.”
Ameida said students who pay less for materials without AMP would serve as “a function to subsidize the overhead cost and bring it down.”
He added that AMP has listed other issues students face. These include financial aid delays also delaying access to materials; students not having access to materials on the first day of class; and the rising cost of textbooks. But, “AMP addresses these issues like trying to screw in a screw with a hammer.”
Almeida is concerned that AMP would cause the “hinderance of progress toward OER.” The UASU’s report proposes new solutions and builds off existing OER programs such as syllabus banking and the Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) program. One solution the UASU proposes is putting textbook costs on a student’s account. This way, the student doesn’t have to pay up-front, which would address financial aid delays.
Although “things are polarized at the moment,” Almeida said that those proposing AMP “are just doing their jobs.”
“And, the UASU is currently rejecting it because the UASU is doing its job. When these things are approached in a collegial manner where both sides just indicate their concerns, the vote tends to go in the direction that I think may benefit students the most.”
Inclusive access programs “are not inclusive or equitable practices,” SPARC’s Open Education Project Manager says
SPARC is a non-profit advocacy organization. It works with decision-makers at all levels to advance policies that enable open and equitable systems for research and education. SPARC supports “systems for research and education that are open by default and equitable by design,” according to its website.
In an interview with The Gateway, Babb explained that OER are resources with an open license. They can be freely used, adapted, and shared. Oppositely, with inclusive access resources, the copyright is retained by the content’s owner. Because AMP is an inclusive access program, students would lose access to class materials after the semester ends.
Another concern is student agency, Babb added. She said that one aspect of this concern is students lose access to materials in inclusive access programs. As well, the materials themselves are often limited, such as how many pages from a book can be printed.
SPARC’s leading concern with inclusive access programs such as AMP “is the claim that these programs are cost-saving initiatives.” Babb said a student who buys all their materials brand-new may save money. However, a student who looks for alternatives, such as renting books, may end up paying more than they would usually.
As well, the contracts implemented after a RFP is approved can change depending on the agreements. Babb said that particularly in the US, there’s many cases of contracts locked at a certain rate with room to increase prices over time. This directly impacts the price students pay.
“We haven’t seen any concrete data say that [inclusive access] does have a positive effect for students. The reality is that these programs limit student choice and often put parameters on how content can be accessed or utilized. Those are not inclusive or equitable practices.”
“[We’re hoping] to have answers to those tougher questions by the end of this calendar year,” Medaglia says
The Gateway asked Medaglia about AMP’s current timeline and if consultations will be done again with the same groups once the RFP comes back with a number.
“[We’re hoping] to have answers to those tougher questions by the end of this calendar year,” Medaglia said. “If the dollar amount to the RFP is not even actionable, we will have to go back to the drawing board and potentially find new solutions that would help students.”
What AMP may look like remains unclear. More specific questions will be answered once the RFP comes back and a number is presented.
UPDATE: On December 1 at 9:57 a.m., the article was updated to include that all course materials would be available for students participating in AMP.