Textbooks Costs The Effect on International Students

Joseph R. Seaman, Kate McClintock & Yao Chu

The high price of textbooks combined with exchange rates has increased international students' financial burden to ridiculous levels.

Every new semester, students would spend lots of money in the textbook. For international students who are from China, Japan, Korean, and so on, they could be paid more money than Canadian students because of factor of low exchange rate. According to the Canadian Federation of students, the average post secondary students in Canada spend about $500 to $1000 for textbooks and course materials each semester. It is an unreasonable burden for university students on the cost of university textbooks, which increases the expense of students’ education. Therefore, the price of the textbook is very high, not only for international students but also for Canadian students.

From my personal experience, I almost spend around $300 hundred dollars in textbook per semester. Some courses, Professor ask every student must have a textbook. When I arrived PEI in the first year, I took EAP courses. Reading and writing teachers asked students must have a textbook. I bought the first book at UPEI Bookstore. It costs around $86 excluded tax. The more frustrating are those textbooks only need to use once because next semester, EAP students do not use those books. I converted subconsciously dollars into Chinese Yuan, which is around 473 Yuan when the dollar is 5.5 Yuan. 473 Yuan means a high school student’s the food expense in China.

A new report from Student Public Interest Groups, the cost of a university textbook has increased by 73 percent since 2006. According to the breakdown of where textbook dollars going, 77% money goes to publishers, and 22% money goes to bookstore, and 1% money goes to shipping (Here’s Exactly Why College Textbooks Are So Expensive, 2015).

Consequently, this report would analysis why textbook costs so much, introduce the influence of exchange rate for international students, and propose some solutions to save students’ expense in textbook.

Why are textbooks so expensive?

Well there a several reasons as to why they are so expensive but first the graph above is a good indicator of how much they have increased the last few decades. From 1978 to 2014 text books have increased 487% more than new homes and 237% more than medical services. (The graph is American and that is why the medical services is there but the other markets are very similar to Canadian.)

So how did textbooks get so expensive?

The main reason is the textbook market is broken. In a traditional market, two factors exert control over prices.

  1. First, competition: if someone enters a market a begins to sell their product for less, it forces all the other companies to lower their prices.
  2. Second, consumers: if the consumers find a good too expensive, they will not buy the product forcing prices down.

In the textbook market, neither of those two factors exist.

  1. 80% of the textbook market is controlled by 5 publishers, which means they can force out anyone who tries to enter the market and undercut them.
  2. Also there is no consumer choice. The consumer (student) have to buy what they are told to buy, and the choice is made by their professor.

So what this means is the text book market can raise, prices year in and year out, without any consequence and they have been for decades.

*A small note, not all professors choose the textbook, sometimes it is the department that decides and tells the professor what textbook is required.

Exchange Rate

...how does this hurt the international students...?

These are the reasons textbooks are so expensive but how do this hurt international students anymore then the rest of the student populace? The above table shows exchange rates between several countries and Canada. Also it shows how much the foreign country needs to multiply their currency by to equal one Canadian dollar.

The table compares the Colombian Peso (COP), Nigerian Naira (NGN), and Chinese Yuan (CNY) to the Canadian Dollar (CDN). For the many international students coming from one of these countries they need to pay much more for textbooks. As many have noticed, many of the international students at UPEI are from one of these countries or from the same area which have approximately the same exchange rate.

For Colombians, their peso is equal to 1/24 of a Canadian cent. So to buy textbooks, which usually cost $1000 a year, they would need to spend 2,281,812.10 pesos. To put that into perspective, their average annual income is 71,901,091 pesos, or $31,510.52, so textbooks would take 3% of their income.

For Nigeria, the naira is equal to about ½ a Canadian cent. So a year of textbooks ($1000) costs 239,548.05 naira’s. Their average annual income being 6,639,547 NGN or $27,716.97, so textbooks would take 4%.

For China, they got it a bit better then the last two, with the yuan equal to $0.19. So a year of text books is equal to 5,240.67 yuan. Their annual income of 313,825 yuan, or $59,882.65, so textbooks would take about 2%.

Now that is the price just for a year of textbooks, this is not including the tuition they need to pay, which costs more, living expenses, and traveling fees. Also next to no university students are making their national average salary, so this causes a great financial burden of international students.

Above there are two countries not mentioned, those where Australia and England. They were placed there to show not all international students pay more for textbooks. Australia’s dollar is equal to the Canadian dollar, and England’s pound is equal to $1.66. Along with the US and most of Europe, they pay less for everything here and gain from the exchange rate.

In the end textbook prices are too expensive for average Canadian students but for international students it is ridicules. It is not only hurting them, but it is hurting the Canadian university image, which can cause potential international students to change their mind about UPEI an Canada itself.

Negative Solutions

The high costs that university students face can be overwhelming. Tuition is expensive, and when added fees, living expenses, and textbook costs are considered, people are often desperate to save money in one or all of these areas in order to lower their future debt. Unfortunately, certain methods that students use to save on textbook costs can actually violate copyright laws and have some serious consequences.

In the early 2000s, a group of students from the University of Toronto travelled to India where they saw one of their textbooks available for about $5 CAD per copy. They purchased enough to fill an entire suitcase, flew them back to Canada, and sold them to their peers for far less than Canadian textbook distributors were charging for the same book. What they did not know was that this was in direct violation of the Copyright Act, which states that publishers of non-Canadian books can choose to have an exclusive distributor of their books, thereby prohibiting anyone else from selling them for profit.

Another incident happened in January 2011 in Montreal, where thirteen people were arrested by the RCMP for illegally photocopying over $545,000 worth of textbooks. Evidently, there is a severe price to pay for simply trying to save money on textbook costs.

Positive Solutions

Fortunately, there’s a legal, easy, and extremely affordable solution that has been happening in the United States and British Columbia over the past few years called Open Source Textbooks.

Open Source textbooks are digital versions of textbooks that are offered to students for free or a very low cost—meaning some students have been able to save as much as $146 per course because of this system.

Since the books are created under an open license, they are able to be downloaded and printed legally, and professors also have the freedom to rearrange the sequence of the material in the books to suit their classes, which has been met with a lot of positive feedback. Professors who have been using this system have also stated how pleased they are to help lower students’ financial burden, even by just a few hundred dollars.

The Open Source textbook movement first started in the United States, with British Columbia being the first province to introduce it. So far, it has been very successful. The system is run by a publicly funded organization called BCcampus that uses collaborative technology to make post-secondary education more accessible to a greater number of people. Over 40 subject areas are currently offering the Open Source books, ranging across disciplines, and they are in the process of acquiring even more.

In the Fall semester of 2013, six universities and colleges in BC used Open Source Textbooks and collectively saved over $43,000 for their students, so it is proven to be very effective. With any luck, this system will be adopted by universities nationwide and save students an exponential amount of money.

Hypothetical Solutions

A more economical alternative for students who cannot afford textbooks or do not want to buy them, which is rentals. We recommend the UPEI Bookstore establish the textbook rental program. It could help students to cut the cost of the textbook.

Textbook rentals save up to 70% percent off the new price on every single book students rent. Textbook rentals allow students to rent their textbooks from the campus Bookstore for a specified term. The fee for renting a textbook is calculatedly differently for each book and depends on several factors. It is very cost-effective option for students who could choose to rent a book instead of buying.

Campus bookstore could directly access to students’ instructor’s book list, so they can guarantee that students rent right books for their classes (Textbook Rental Program, 2016). If students rent textbooks online, online rentals companies could provide the correct textbook or course materials for students. Moreover, students could make notes on the textbook. Normal use of the textbook including highlighting and writing is permitted by campus bookstore. Institutions including the university of Toronto, the University of Manitoba, and the University of British Columbia has offered textbook rentals service. Therefore, we hope the UPEI Bookstore can do too.

In addition, we hope the UPEI Bookstore could give benefits and privileges for students during the period of holidays and festivals. For example, over the Christmas period, students buy one book and get one free used book. It is not just giving the discount off related to clothing, gift ware, and office supplies, but we hope the bookstore can give a discount around 20%-30% off at the start of the first year. And this discount activity will continue through the week. It is very helpful for UPEI students to save the expense.


There is still a long way to go before university students, both international and Canadian, are not overwhelmed with high textbook costs. The Open Source Textbook movement is still fairly small, largely due to a lack of awareness. The UPEI Bookstore unfortunately has no control over the textbook prices set by publishing companies. However, we hope that future generations will have free and easily accessible textbooks to enhance their university careers.

Works Cited

Bascaramurty, Dakshana. How to cut the cost of textbooks. The Globe and Mail, 16 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Carrns, Ann. “Putting a Dent in College Costs with Open-Source Textbooks.” Your Money. The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Jerema, Carson. “Why Textbooks Are so Expensive.” June 18, 2010. Accessed November 13, 2016. http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/why-textbooks-are-so-expensive/.

“McMaster University Campus Store.” 2014. Accessed November 15, 2016. https://campusstore.mcmaster.ca/information/faq/cost.html.

Nicholls, Natsuko Hayashi. “The Investigation into the Rising Cost of Textbooks: A Background Study of the Context of Michigan Initiatives with an Eye Toward Launching a Library-Based College Textbook Publishing Program.” Accessed November 10, 2016. http://www.lib.umich.edu/files/SPOTextbookBackground.pdf.

Senack, Ethan. “Textbooks Cost a Lot. Here’s Why.” Huffington Post (The Huffington Post), August 31, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ethan-senack/textbooks-cost-a-lot- here_b_8065762.html.

Staff, Attn. “Here’s Exactly Why College Textbooks Are so Expensive.” March 12, 2015. Accessed November 13, 2016. http://www.attn.com/stories/1164/heres-exactly-why-college-textbooks- are-so-expensive.

“Students Saving Money with Open Textbooks.” January 10, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2016. https://news.gov.bc.ca/stories/students-saving-money-with-open-textbooks


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