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Universities Switch to Open Access Textbooks, to Boost Student Retention Rates, as Educational Resources Prices Skyrocket

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Academy of Science, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, April 22, 2014 | © Courtesy of Lesley A. Butler.

Following suite of its international counterparts, the Australian National University has published its first batch of six Open Access course books, in a strategy switch aimed at increasing student engagement. In recent years, Open Access textbooks are increasingly championed by global organizations and publishers, as demand from financially burdened students and universities surges.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In its effort to relieve the textbook price pressures on its students a fifth of which have been found to drop out from their academic studies, the Australian National University (ANU) has discovered that its Open Access textbooks have been downloaded more than 27,000 times in 2017, enabled teaching methodology experimentation, significantly increased student satisfaction rates, and contributed to students’ progress and performance. In doing this, the ANU has joined a growing international trend, as Open Access textbooks have been found to be associated with improved academic grades, higher student retention rates and greater course completion rates. Especially undergraduate students stand to benefit from Open Access books, which in 2015 have been found to be used by 31% of students across 15 courses based on a sample of 16,000 undergraduate survey participants at 10 academic institutions in the United States.

In other words, Open Access textbooks have been demonstrated to be as good as or of superior quality as compared to commercial textbooks. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Open Access pedagogical resources can significantly reduce course failure rates. At the same time, the long-term financial viability of Open Access textbook projects remains in question, as they require third-party or governmental support, to ensure their continued adequacy to student needs and course curricula. Nevertheless, as the cost of living rises, the adoption of Open Access textbooks by universities can significantly alleviate the economic burdens that students shoulder and because of which they can terminate their academic studies.

In particular, recent statistical data for the United States indicate that between 1998 and 2016 the costs of textbook acquisition have risen by 181%, while significantly outpacing the inflation rate of 149% for the same period. High and constantly rising textbook prices can exceed 1,200 USD per year at American undergraduate colleges and academic programs, which compounds the effect of increasing tuition rates and housing rentals, which has created the momentum for a growing utilization of Open Access educational resources, such as the OpenStax program of Rice University that publishes high-quality peer-reviewed textbooks across a variety of academic disciplines primarily targeted to undergraduate students’ needs.

As textbook costs continue to rise exponentially, the accessibility of academic materials around the world has been among the reasons for the recent cooperation between the United Nations and De Gruyter to publish Open Access textbooks in the field of mathematics, such as Linear Algebra and Probability and Statistics, in order to promote the sustainability of science and technology education programs in China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Morocco and Jordan.

This indicates that Open Access textbook initiatives have been gaining in global recognition, due to their quality, accessibility and pedagogical adaptability.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Academy of Science, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, April 22, 2014 | © Courtesy of Lesley A. Butler.

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