An Earnest Consideration on the Cost of Textbooks
An Earnest Consideration on the Cost of Textbooks
  • 강혜진 기자
  • 승인 2013.09.04 17:07
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One of the main worries for students who are going to prepare for a new semester is purchasing books for their classes. Students are stressed out because they feel obligated to purchase books for their classes and pay tuition at the same time. On campus, there is a fierce standoff between two mindsets. One considers it is a waste to purchase expensive books for one class for one semester. The other mindset is that students are stingy about the price of books, yet they happily pay for coffee that can cost more than 4,000 won without hesitation. The Observer listened to the voices of YU students and one professor on this matter, and were introduced to a variety of perspectives.

Purchasing textbooks, the beginning of controversy
Earlier this year, Gwang-su Ma, a professor of Korean Language & Literature at Yonsei University, told his students that they had to turn in a report along with a receipt for purchasing two of his books that were on the class syllabus of his two liberal arts courses. Due to this apparent conflict of interest some students shaped public criticism on Sei yon net (an online community at Yonsei Univ.) that he was going into business with his lectures. Spreading over the controversy, Prof. Ma wrote a message on the bulletin board of the online community that he was disappointed about students’ brazen attitudes regarding not purchasing books for their class or for assignments.

How YU students purchase books for classes
The Observer conducted a survey about purchasing books for classes with a total of 250 students. We surveyed 50 students each from the larger colleges, like Liberal Arts, Business & Economics, Sciences, Engineering and a total of 50 students representing the other smaller colleges from July 10th to 13rd.

• How they prepare books for their classes
Ninety-two percent of students from the school Business & Economics, 76% of Engineering, 80% of Science, 72% of Liberal arts and 90% of the students from the rest of the colleges at YU answered “yes” to the question “Did you buy any of your books for classes in the university bookstore last semester?” The most common answer students from all of the colleges gave ragarding why they chose to buy their books at a bookstore was: “It’s expensive but there is no other way.” That’s a startling reason. One business student wrote in response “the professor demands it,” in the “et cetera” column of the survey. On the other hand, 43% of Liberal Arts students and 60% of the students from the other colleges answered that they did not buy books from the bookstore because they wanted “to get them cheaper from alternative online or offline stores.” Fifty percent of the Engineering and Science students and 40% of the students from the other colleges answered that “they could take books from upperclassmen,” and the next most common response was simply, “I get books for my class from other online or offline sources.”

• The cost of purchasing books for classes
Fifty-four percent of Liberal Arts and Business & Economics students and 56% of the students from the other colleges buy 2 or 3 books for their classes each semester. Whereas the percentage of students in the Engineering and Science who bought 4~5 books in a semester totaled 34% and 36%. Furthermore, 64% of the Business & Economics students, 38% of the Engineering and Science students, 42% of the Liberal Arts students and 64% of the students from the other colleges spent from 50,000 to 100,000 won on books for their classes last semester. Students who spent over 100,000 won for books for their classes last semester totaled 12% from Business & Economics, 16% from Liberal Arts and 8% from the other colleges. Twenty-eight percent of the Engineering students and 32% of Science students spent more than 100,000 won. We can guess from these survey results that the burden of purchasing books is a little heavier for science and engineering students.

• Satisfaction with books
Most of the students from the smaller colleges responded that the book quality of their classes was “average” in relationship to their cost last semester. However, 22 of 46 students from the college of Business & Economics had complaints about their book quality. After the response of “average” the next most common responses were “very unsatisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.” These responses outnumbered the “very satisfactory” and “satisfactory” responses. Next, students from engineering, science and the smaller colleges mostly answered “average” to the question of satisfaction contrasted with lesson utilization last semester, but 20 of 46 students in the Business & Economics and 13 of 36 from the Liberal Arts had complaints in this area. Therefore, we can conclude that the lesson utilization of textbooks in science and engineering is relatively higher than the classes for other college students.
Through several interviews, The Observer listened to opinions from both sides of the issue.

A satisfied student
Eun-ji Jung, Sophomore, Business
When I was a freshman, I took statistics as one of my classes and the book was the color edition, so I could study vividly. If I had bought a copy of the book, I would not have had as much motivation and support for studying. Above all, the professor always stressed the importance of the books in that class because he said he would form questions for tests just by modifying questions from the textbook, or he might take them straight from the book. Furthermore, although I felt that 30,000 won was a lot of money at first time, I was satisfied with how the book was used and the notes I took from it.

A dissatisfied student
Na-hyeon Kim, Sophomore, Chinese language & literature
I have absolutely no idea why the professor told us to purchase the book he chose. It was difficult to carry it everywhere because it was so heavy. The class was mainly conducted with PPT handouts or by watching movie clips. Once in a while, the professor used the book selectively. So, it was no use when it came time to study for the exam. I considered not buying a copy because of the cost, but I just bought the book because all my classmates bought it.

How common is it to copy books?
Fifty-five percent of the students from the colleges of Business & Economics, Science, and Engineering have had experience copying a book. About 50% of the students said that they were not aware that copying books is illegal.

The Korea Reproduction and Transmission Rights Association filed a suit for 250 million won for infringement of copyrights against 6 universities including Seoul National University in July 2012. The reason for this suit is that these universities have allowed copied books to be used in classes.

The Observer tried to better understand the situation regarding book copying through an interview with a copy shop owner at the college of Liberal Arts at YU.

At the beginning of this semester, the volume of book copying has been diminished compared with other years, but many students still come in to have books copied. In the case of an out of print book, I just make the copies because there is no other way for students to get the books for their classes. However, I do not allow books to be copied when they are written by a department of YU or professors at YU because if I am caught in a regular inspection by the department of property management I will not be able to do business here anymore. Therefore, I refuse students’ requests for copying in bulk unless the professors authorize it.

How to make buying books easier
The marketplaces for used-books are full of energy because of the high cost of new books. A used-book store managed by Aladdin trades from 20 to 30 books for various classes a day. Nine hundred and eighty books were traded in March 2012, and books are directly sold at 50-70% of the price of new books. There are other examples of how students have made buying books for their classes easier and less expensive.

Individual effort
Mr. Choi, who is a senior at Yeonsei University started his own direct dealing site ( for books in March 2012. It is aimed at 150 four-year universities throughout the country, students have posted over 12,000 books individually so far.

Other universities’ efforts
Seoul National University will implement a long-term rental program of expensive books for classes in some colleges at the beginning of this semester. In the case of Soongsil University, it provides a system of lending requested books for the first time in local universities. If students go to a book shop and submit an application form for books they hope to borrow, they can get text messages that tell them when they can borrow them from the university library within 7 days.

YU’s efforts
YU's system for requesting books as similar to the one used at Soongsil University. If you are an undergraduate student, you can request 10 books in a semester on the official site of YU Central Library. However, you cannot request books related to internationally authorized English tests like TOEIC and TOEFL. The loan period is 3-4 weeks for domestic books and 50-90 days for foreign books. The place that YU students usually make deals for books is the “buy/sell” free board on the YU official homepage, or the “buy and sell” section on “YU kiki” community.

YU students’ opinion about the policy for purchasing books
Seventy-six percent of students in Engineering majors and 62% of the students in Science majors do not have any experience with purchasing books for their classes through used-book marketplaces. In the case of the smaller colleges, students who had experience purchasing books from used-book marketplaces are more than 3.5 times those who have no experience. Fifty-eight percent of all the students surveyed cited “vitalization of the used-book marketplace” as the most necessary change for improving the situation. There are many students who do not know about the existence of online marketplaces at YU, so we need to have active public relations.

Interview with
Professor, Sung-ok Baek, Environmental Engineering
Q) How do you handle requiring students to buy books in your class?
A) I think the burden of purchasing books for their class is demanding. At first, I tell the students they should buy certain books, but I do not force them to purchase them. Instead, I tell them that I can’t allow them to bring copies to class. I do not push them but copies are illegal. I usually prepare many handouts in my office.

Q) What policy can ease the burden?
A) Many foreign universities have a good system whereby the school purchases the same books for classes cooperatively through the school library. Students can borrow them and they conduct a policy to return them after use. If we purchase 50-100 books, we can get a discount benefit and junior colleagues can use them together for about 3-4 years.

While the number of required books for classes is increasing, students are dealing with it in their own way, and professors are delivering diversified alternatives that consider the students’ financial conditions. The same story is unfolding at YU, but to solve the issue more fundamentally, the most important thing is institutional support from the school. Even if it is just for expensive and hard-to-find books, it is a good alternative that the school buys them in bulk for the library or institutionalize a marketplace for used books on campus, run mainly by the General Students’ Association. It is no longer just students’ issue. It has become an urgent problem that the school, professors and students will have to put their heads together to solve.

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