July Executive Blog

Today was a big day for undergraduate students at Athabasca University!

The Board of Governors unanimously passed a budget that approved a change to the course materials fee to allow full transparency, choice and cost savings for students as it relates to texts and etexts.


The Board of Governors unanimously agreed to an amendment to allow existing international students to be grandfathered at a rate of tuition very similar to what they are currently paying, as opposed to a market reset being put in place that will apply to students not currently enrolled at AU.

Today, I can say that student voices were heard.

For several years, AUSU has been advocating for Etext Choice and Cost Savings.  You can read our position on this topic here. Under the current system, each student pays $180 in course material fees when we register for a course and AU automatically provides us with our textbook – in paper or etext format included in that price. Students have been concerned with a lack of value when receiving an etext for the same price that we had been paying for a physical textbook and we had asked AU to provide options to students and allow us to benefit from the cost savings associated with etext.

Once the new system is fully implemented, when we register we will pay a course materials fee of only $130, instead of $180. BUT, we will not receive any textbook for that price. Students will then have an option to purchase an etext or new textbook from AU, or obtain a text via other means such as an online or used bookstore, library, or borrowed from a friend.  The challenge will be to obtain all of your required reading for less than $50 per course, which may not be possible in all cases. Overall we received exactly what AUSU has asked for; fair disclosure about what we were paying for, and the choice to obtain the course material via the medium we prefer with the corresponding cost savings.

The budget also contained increases to tuition and non-mandatory fees. Non-mandatory undergraduate fees are set to increase by 4% in most cases, as is out-of-province Canadian tuition.  Alberta tuition is frozen, so students in Athabasca’s home province will continue to benefit from that regional ruling. Originally, the presented budget included a “market reset” for international tuition – with a proposed increase of $605 more per course for AU students living outside of Canada.

On behalf of undergraduate students at Athabasca University, I presented an amendment to the budget at all levels of budget approval and consultation – to grandfather existing international students with a tuition fee increase of only 10% ($35 per course) – saving them $570 per course!  This amendment was unanimously accepted by the Board of Governors. In my statement to the Board, I said that this speaks to the idea that “to the world you are one person, but to one person you are the world.” For those individuals studying at AU abroad, this amendment may allow them to continue their program, where they may not have been able to if they received an increase of $605 per course.

These changes, while approved by the Board, will now need to be implemented. AU would be the place to go to find out the timelines for these changes and how they will affect each individual student.  Overall, the impact of the changes approved today once implemented will mean that when registering for courses:

  • Alberta students will pay $50 less to register for a 3 credit course
  • Out of province Canadian students will pay $26 less to register for a 3 credit course
  • Out of country students will pay $15 less to register for a 3 credit course
  • There have been many times in my career as the AUSU President when I’ve wondered if the work I was doing was making a difference, if we would ever see change or if I was simply wasting my breath.  Today, I have a renewed faith in the power of student advocacy and the ability for student leaders to affect change.

    Advice from me in the mean time… get on the AUSU mobile app and start connecting with fellow students in your program.  Build a network that will come in handy for sharing, selling and buying used textbooks!

    Shawna Wasylyshyn

4 replies on “July Executive Blog”

I am surprised to hear that the portion of the course materials fee dedicated to textbooks is only $50. What are we paying for with the other $130?

When is this change going to be implemented?

Although this change has been approved, it is up to AU to determine how or when to implement it. It is our understanding that that fee was not just for texts/etexts – it covered things like library resources, course design costs, the course study guide, licensing fees for course materials (including other articles, etc. used in courses beyond the textbook), among other things. We don’t have all the details on that, so will need to wait until AU officially announces it for more information. Please contact AU directly with any questions about this.

I understand many people don’t necessarily “like” etexts, but just as much licensing went into delivering that content to the end user as a physical copy would have. That is one of the reasons many people may notice that when buying a title off the best sellers list for example, the ebook option may be a few dollars cheaper at most, but is usually very comparable to the cost of the paper copy. I fully understand the value of an etext being provided for me for a flat fee, if I am so bothered by reading from a screen, most etexts offer a printable PDF format anyway. Considering the amount of out of province and international students enrolled and the rising costs of postage, I’m surprised more courses aren’t offering etexts, frankly.

My concern is being able to find textbooks for $50.00. I do not have the same buying power or resources to acquire texts that a fully accredited university does, will the options to purchase texts (digital or otherwise) be comparable to that $50.00 price tag when buying books after this change? Some courses require multiple texts, I was provided with 5 books for a single English course, one of which is worth $57.00 on amazon ( if I were to buy a brand new copy like the one I received from the university. I am afraid this sounds like it will end up costing students more money in the long run.

Thanks for your comments Alex. The changes will look different for each student, and have a varying degree of impact based on a number of factors.

When I wrote my blog, I wrote it based on the idea that AU students have always paid one “all encompassed” materials fee, and over the years what was included and the transparency of what exactly we were paying for were lost. According to AU, they were actually subsidizing course materials to a large degree and with the well known financial difficulties this needed to change. As I see it, the University had two options:

1) Raise the materials fee dramatically for all registrations
2) Change the composition of the fee and allow students to acquire their own text how they see fit

Option 1 was the “easy choice” for AU. Texts had always been included, the IT structure and registrations systems support the way it is now and since the cost of the books were going up, and they could have raised the fee to some unimaginable amount, call it a materials fee and we would have been stuck with it.

Option 2 was much more work for AU, and but in the end it will give students an opportunity to only pay for what they need. AU will still be offering the materials for purchase through them, at their discounted rate, it just won’t be automatically included.

In my blog, I’m saying that I’m glad that the University was willing to undertake this project in an effort to allow students greater transparency and choice. My honest opinion is that the costs to students were going up either way and at least we will have SOME control over our own material expenses.

I have an excellent example of this. I registered for two courses that both start on Oct 1 – FNCE300 and ADMN100. For these courses, I paid a combined $360 in course materials fees and today in the mail I received one paper textbook and two of the exact same scientific calculator, which I already own! So in the example of these two courses:

If we were under the new system:

– I would have paid $45 for the etext for ADMN100
– I have found a used copy of the text for FNCE300 online for $4.87

So I would have spent less than $50 on materials for two courses. Instead, I had to pay AU $100 and I have a brand new textbook and two calculators I won’t even take out of the plastic.

As I’ve said, there are hundreds of different scenarios and no two students will have the same experience. But, if I end up having to pay more, I would rather it be because I’m buying the materials I’m choosing, in the medium I prefer.

I hope that helps!