Lobby group hopes to lower text prices

After a brief hiatus vice-president Alyssa Stacey and others are working to revive the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials. CRAM brought together student unions from across the country to discuss ways to help keep academic material costs down for students.

CRAM was created to bring attention to the high costs of textbooks and course packs. Former 2008-2009 University of Alberta SU vice-president academic John Braga was involved in the operation of CRAM at the time it started to lose momentum.

“By my term in office, CRAM had existed already for over 15 years,” said Braga. “CRAM was intended to support the member schools through information regarding textbook costs, which they could then incorporate into their own lobby initiatives.”

Many student unions don’t have the internal advocacy staff and resources that the U of A and U of C do, and were unable to use the information CRAM supplied.

Most student unions also hold a membership to major national lobby groups. As such, CRAM could not be incorporated into either group and became yet another group to join.

“That compounded the challenges of creating a unified movement,” said Braga.

This year, Stacey, along with U of A VP academic James Eastham, the U of A bookstore manager, UBC SU, and other invited student unions and bookstore representatives will attend the Campus Stores Canada conference at the beginning of November.

“That’s typically when all the bookstore managers meet so we’re going to get together and create a dialogue for what the purpose of CRAM is,” Stacey said.

The Students’ Union hopes to use this conference to restart a dialogue between the major players, rebuilding networks that have been lost over the last few years.

“We want to share information between unions and make sure that after we have this conference things don’t just stop,” Eastham said.

The representatives also plan to focus on money-saving strategies such as digital textbook alternatives. The copyright levies have increased making course packs more expensive in the past few years.

Eastham said that the group currently has three main concerns — changing Canadian import legislation and the accompanying tariffs, investigating impacts of the new copyright bill and increasing digital materials on campuses.

The conference will centre on student issues but Stacey plans to address faculty as well.

“I’m thinking of holding focus groups with faculty members and telling them what supports that they have, and what are some of the academic material issues that students face,” Stacey said.

“We already know a lot of the issues for students on hand through USRIs and other data. Right now, it has fallen on the faculty hands. Are they incorporating the opinions into their classrooms, into their decisions?”

Stacey believes this approach will help CRAM succeed in the long term. According to the CRAM website the “Textbook market is not a normal market, because the people who pick the books are not the ones paying for them.” By including faculty in the discussion, professors will hopefully keep costs in mind when choosing textbooks.

“I’m hoping that I can engage the faculty so that perhaps in the future they will be in support of alternative resources so we can develop policy at the university, but it’s a long process,” she said.

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