x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

University stands by textbook fees

The American University of Sharjah says it is protecting copyright laws by making undergraduates, who would frequently photocopy material, pay up front.

The American University of Sharjah (AUS) says it will press ahead with its new policy of charging a fee each term for textbooks despite opposition from students. From the start of the new academic year later this month, undergraduates will have to pay Dh1,250 (US$340) a term in advance, which can only be used to buy books from the university's bookshop. Any surplus can be carried over into the following year, but only once.

The policy has been introduced to ensure that students buy textbooks instead of photocopying them. In total, undergraduates will have to pay Dh2,500 per academic year, in addition to tuition fees of Dh73,220 and other costs, such as laboratory fees. Students have set up a Facebook group in opposition to the initiative, which was introduced on the recommendation of AUS deans. Sanjoy Noronha, an Indian, who recently completed a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at AUS, said he spent between Dh800 and Dh1,200 per year on textbooks. "I managed to use textbooks my friends had but didn't need anymore," he said.

"Students are already complaining about it. Many don't spend at all on textbooks - most things are on Powerpoint and slides." Mr Noronha conceded, however, that some students did photocopy textbooks, especially if they only needed one chapter. Another student to recently complete a course at AUS, Tahir Ratlamwala, from Pakistan, who is now about to begin a master's degree at the university, said that as an undergraduate he would share textbooks with fellow students.

"Each book costs Dh300 or Dh350 and we would take six courses, and we cannot afford that much," he said. "Each person would buy one and we would share the book." He said, to reduce costs, he would use online textbooks, cutting his annual expenditure to Dh500. "It's not fair at all," he said of the new scheme. Dr Peter Heath, the AUS chancellor, said he would have been "disappointed" if students had not complained. "You want students to complain," he said. "You don't want them to just roll over. That's how you improve the policy."

He said previous measures to control "prevalent enough" copyright violations had failed because of lax enforcement and student inertia. "Faculty have exhorted students to buy their books for many years, but the results have not been fruitful," he said. Additionally, he said, faculty members were "reluctant" to become classroom police. He insisted the measure was not intended as a way of extorting money from students.

Rather, he said, the purpose was to ensure proper adherence to academic fair use and international copyright laws. However, other university professionals called for the relaxation of the rules. Ayesha Appique, co-ordinator for the interior design department at Preston University Ajman, said students there were given photocopied handouts because "they're not going to utilise the whole book". "We don't want to pressure the students," she said. "We don't feel justified in having them buy the book."

Dr Heath said AUS was willing to consider giving students bookstore vouchers in exchange for used textbooks once it was apparent how many students were willing to return them. But he added: "What we won't deviate from is trying to protect copyright. "We feel it's a lesson that students here should learn." dbardsley@thenational.ae