A few years ago, the governments of Ontario and British Columbia funded the creation of free textbooks. These textbooks are peer-reviewed and are able to be used in some of the most common post-secondary courses. Best of all — they’re free and available online under a Creative Commons license. These quality textbooks are written by professors and instructors from some of Canada’s top institutions and are one of the best investments of taxpayer money.
The problem with these texts is that they’re not frequently used by professors. Academic freedom, which is incredibly important and must be protected, allows professors to decide which textbooks are to be used for their courses. In the past, the only options were for them to choose textbooks published by private publishers. These textbooks cost students hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each and every semester. For most of academic history, this was the way it had to be. This was the way it had always been. But it’s not the way things should be.
Investing in free, open, and peer-reviewed textbooks supports higher education and cuts down on its costs. Governments have done this in the past and should continue to do so, investing more to enable this resource for even more subjects. But schools, professors, and instructors must do more to maximize the use of these texts.
While there will always be cause for academics to use other texts, there is simply no reason to do so when a textbook that is the same, or better, is available for that same subject. Schools and professors should be held accountable for their textbook choices. These textbooks are a mandatory cost for students imposed upon them by their professors.
Maybe it had to be like this before, but it’s past time that we do something to make more textbooks open.