Paying for textbooks is a sensitive issue for students of the University of Seoul (UOS) who have to live off limited funds every month, so they try to seek other ways to acquire textbooks more cheaply. Even if the price of textbooks is a burden to students, is it necessarily bad? The UOS Times examines the attitudes of students toward textbooks and considers whether these attitudes truly reflect intellectual values as well as economic values. We offer examples of other universities and social movements, hopefully contributing to the University’s goal of creating a brilliant future.
University Textbooks - A Spine Breaker to Students?
As March starts, college students are busy preparing for the new semester. The bookstore also begins its busiest season of the year, inundated with students. The store’s shelves are full, and there are piles of books all over the floor. To most people, the bookstore is one sign that the university is an ivory tower for study and truth-seeking. However, if we look more closely, we can see another aspect. Students with tight wallets are hesitating between a bookstore and a bookbindery. Next to the bookstore is a bookbindery. The bookstore owner looks at the unsold books with concern. The problem he sees is that students are looking for the cheapest way possible to buy books. The prices of books differ greatly depending on their subject or language. We can see the trends of students purchasing books in the results of a survey conducted by The UOS Times.
Students are using a variety of alternatives to find textbooks. About 90 percent of students say the books are too expensive, with an average cost of 93,000 won. To acquire books more cheaply, students not only purchase major textbooks both online, but they also use approaches such as buying used books, borrowing books from the library, going to bookbinderies, and receiving textbooks from upperclassmen. These results reveal that students feel quite burdened by the price of books and try to lighten the load in different ways.
Why Students Look for Alternatives to Buy Cheaper Textbooks
Why do students use these alternative means? The most common and best-known reason is cost. University textbooks are also pricey compared to other books such as novels, or comic books. According to a poll conducted by an employment agency, Albamon, the average cost of university living is 380,000 won per month. This means that in the beginning month of semester, what UOS students pay for their textbooks is almost 24 percent of the standard cost of living. This can be quite harsh for students. Kim Eun-ah (Dept. of Science in Taxation, ’14) emphasized, “Last month, book fees led me to live in deprivation. Even though I earn my own pocket money, I had to ask my parents to give me money to live due to the large sum charged on books. For a week, I had to minimize expenditures for lunch and dinner.”
There is another reason. Some complain about the efficiency of textbooks used in their classes. Lee Eun-ji (Dept. of Social Welfare, ’12) emphasized that some professors prefer using computer presentations or handouts that they have made not only in general education classes but also in major courses. She said, “Before purchasing textbooks, I study the teaching style of each professor for about three weeks. Even though all professors assert the importance of their textbooks, I get books later only if professors use those textbooks in their lectures or if textbooks are necessary for my studies.” While students also recognize that textbooks provide helpful information and tips for studying, those books are not related to their grades if professors do not use textbooks to make their midterms and finals. Due to this pragmatic approach, they seem to regard textbooks as a fancy, decorative part of attending university.
Ignoring the Value of Knowledge
Compared to book fees in elementary, middle, and high school, those at a universitiy are indeed relatively high. However, many students who responded in the survey of The UOS Times recognize that each class needs a required text to help students understand course contents, and that textbooks are therefore vital in class. At the university level, textbooks provide students with the highly specialized, professional language expected in higher education. University textbooks provide more complicated and critical information than elementary or high school texts do. Nevertheless, many students feel that this enormous economic burden is not justified by the academic value of major textbooks. It leads to commit illegal acts like bookbinding or book scanning. Their incorrect behavior can worsen the situation. To dig into the roots of this issue, we should go back to our original questions of what the standard is for deciding whether a book is expensive or not and of how students evaluate the price of book?
Regarding this issue, Lim Jong-seong, a professor of Dept. of English Language and Literature at UOS, said, “The price of books is supposed to be highter than we might think, and roughly 150,000 won is the usual amount abroad. Prices are not much different in Korea. Nevertheless, we feel the burden of price much more. It is the students’ turn to look back their attitudes toward dealing with knowledge. Some students recklessly purchase an illegal book to save only two or three thousands won. It is not a good attitude to try to standardize the prices of books and call them cheap or expensive.” As Prof. Lim mentioned the problem can be on us. The book is not to sell a bunch of papers but to sell knowledge. Nowadays we are becoming more used to using the Internet and easily getting a cheap knowledge. Such a social trend to assume intellectual property as ephemeral and disposable makes students hesitate when paying for books.
Regarding this, Prof. Lim also said, “In Japan, they give a reward for pursuing knowledge. By doing so, it guarantees the publication rights of books. Moreover, the Japanese government assures the basic royalties of good books by distributing them to public libraries. Thanks to this system, Japan can accumulate knowledge, and the professors publish good books continuously in a better condition.” Now Japan, doubled in population than ours, has over 10 times more publications in the publishing business. On the contrary, a function of knowledge production is endangered in Korea. For that, students need to concentrate on correcting their attitudes toward the value of knowledge. The society without accumulating knowledge has no future.
Leading to Less Interest in Studying in UOS
Ignoring the value of knowledge is not an issue just relating to publication. It is about disinterest in studying, and Prof. Lim pointed out that especially UOS was deeply involved in this issue. “In the case of our university, only a few students set their minds on studying in the future. That is why our entrance rate of graduate schools is lower than those of other universities. With this tendency, our university cannot become a prestigious one that it can be.”
Concerning this, the committee of university structural reform announced that an entrance rate of graduate schools is used for indexes of evaluation in the future. Baek Seong-gi, Chairman of the committee, said, “Although entering a graduate school is not considered as important as employment, this ratio does indicate the quality of a school’s education. It reflects the effectiveness of education, so we are actively carrying forward a plan to use it as a criterion of university evaluation.” Statistics seems to support the idea that higher-ranked universities have a higher rate that students go to graduate school. According to Joongang Ilbo University Evaluation, there is not much difference in fundamental conditions between UOS and Sogang University. Both universities have no medical college and a comparable level of budget. However, Sogang University is consistent to rank in the top 10 universities, while UOS is still in 14th, five steps up from last year. One of the reasons is from a difference of entrance rate, 6.8 percent, which makes a gap of 20 in ranking. Could a lack of awareness of the value of professional knowledge be one factor leading to little interest in studying, which may in turn threaten genuine academic pursuit at universities?
Beyond the disinterest resulting from students’ ignorance of knowledge value, it may run deeper into the academic culture as a whole. Prof. Lim emphasized on the matter of the number of professors. “Academic fields are one of the important pillars to constitute our society. Professors who organize academic fields are leading people of society on public opinion. However, professors who are from our university are hardly found.” In the 2010 announcement of Ministry of Education and Science Technology, less than 10 percent of UOS professors were UOS graduates.
Professors who graduated from Seoul National University occupies more than half, and 64 percent of the professors obtained diplomas from undergrads such as Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University ? three top universities of Korea commonly referred as SKY. The rate of professors graduating from our school is quite lower in comparison with those of any other universities. The average of major universities in Seoul is around 40 percent overall, and Sogang University is 40.3 percent. It shows that student’s indifference to entering graduate school at UOS extends to lack of capacity for producing professors.
A Problem of Academic Environment
Some students raised objection to the criticism that requires a change in student attitude. They said this issue was not induced from students, indifferent attitude toward knowledge but from the dissatisfaction with their classes. Among the responders to The UOS Times survey, some students expressed their dissatisfaction with teaching methods. That is, professors have been recently less likely to use textbooks and more likely to use printed materials or computer presentations. Some students complained that some professor did not often use textbooks in class. Other students sometimes experienced the frustration when they had to buy a new edition of a textbook. They might have had previous editions of it. Most of students pointed out the academic environments needed to be improved.
Only a few students seemed to be aware that knowledge infringement was a serious problem. They strongly asserted that even students should not be privileged from bookbinding. As mentioned earlier, it seems quite obvious that students need to contemplate on their behaviors as members of society. When we step forward with social duties or regulations, we can contribute to making a change on this issue. Of course, the reward will come to us.
Active, Diverse Movements - Small but Clear Achievements
Recognizing the seriousness of illegal bookbinding, some UOS students have started working on changing their peers’ attitudes toward textbooks. One example can be seen on Gwangjang, the UOS online community. Gwangjang has hosted a secondhand book market for students since 2009. This semester, the number of posts has reached about 700, almost as many as the posts during all of the last year. In another example, secondhand book bazaars have been held at UOS once a year. This year, Close-up, the 2015 Student Council, held it to relieve students, burden. Lee Seung-jin (Dept. of Korean History, ’14), the director of planning department for Close-up, explained: “We know that UOS students have trouble buying relatively high-priced textbooks. We want to help our peers as we carry out the Student Council’s role in social charity. After taking students’ books, we sell them on commission of 10 percent of book price which we donate to the welfare center. We sold 70 out of 235 books, and total sales reached 523,000 won this year. From the total, we donated 79,300 won and 50 books to the UOS Community Welfare Center. We sold books that professors donated as well.”
To appreciate students’ efforts, some professors donate their own intellectual properties, and they even give textbooks to their students for free. This campaign is called the “Big Book Movement.” Those who participate in the movement try to gather intellectual properties that have lost their copyrights and convert them into textbooks for anyone who needs them. In addition to students’ and professors’ efforts, there are social enterprises pitching in. Why Books, an example of such enterprises, distributes free university textbooks to students using in a creative approach. To pay for the books it distributes, it inserts advertisements into the blank pages and space, thereby avoiding copyright violations. Other universities are also trying to find ways to lighten students’ burden of buying textbooks, and UOS might need to learn from them. Soongsil University, for example, makes a contract with Kyobo Book Centre to help students and professors get the books they need in a convenient way. Both the university and Kyobo collaborate to provide a service called “Wish Book On-site Application Service.” Any members of Soongsil University choose books and submit an application form in Kyobo. They can borrow the books from their library in two or three days. Another service called B3E program offers Soongsil university students a 10 percent discount of the books that they buy in Kyobo.
In 2018, UOS will celebrate its 100th anniversary. To encourage everyone to keep up with the changing times, newly elected President of UOS, Won Yun-hi, has announced a new slogan for UOS: “100 years of learning and sharing ? The Pride of Seoul, University of Seoul.” Neither the size of a university nor the number of students can determine the quality of a university. One thing that determines the image and quality of UOS is the greatness of each student’s dream. In order to take pride in UOS we need great dreams within a studious atmosphere. Books will regain their value only when we regard them as stepping stones to our dreams. Certainly a healthier attitude toward textbooks and all learning materials will contribute to our progress.
Alternative Sources - How Legal Are They?
Even though students regard price as the most important factor in buying textbooks, some students forget or ignore very important issues about where they acquire their books. Another factor to consider is whether the choices we make are legal. There are three issues related to textbooks: the concept of intellectual property, the legal and economic effects of bookbinderies, and the legality of book scanning.
What are intellectual property rights?
The UOS Times conducted a survey on 252 UOS students, and its result showed that about 30 percent of respondents were not aware that book-binding was illegal. This percentage may seem small, but it is quite a surprising figure considering that respondents are university students who have had higher education and who place greater value on knowledge. So, what is intellectual property? According to the Merriam-Webster English Learner,s Dictionary, intellectual property is “something (such as an idea, invention, or process) that comes from a person’s mind.” Intellectual property rights are “the rights of a person who has thought of or invented something that other people want to use [or] profit from.”
What is wrong with bookbinding?
By purchasing bound copies, students can save more money than if they buy new books from a bookstore. However, published books distributed to the public at a certain price are also an intellectual property because they provide practical, worthy information to readers. Therefore, reckless copying of university textbooks, most of which are the fruits of professors’ research and study, for personal use and even for non-profit purposes, can violate the Copyright Act of Korea, punishable by a jail term of no fewer than two years or a fine of no more than 50 million won.
A new loophole, book scanning
Developments in IT and the Internet have led to rapid changes in the publishing industry, including fast and easy distribution of information. Students are no longer going to bookbinderies or bookstores to get the books they want. The problem occurs because some books are illegally scanned by anonymous people and shared online, while students simply download those files and read e-books on their portable devices, completely free of charge. One source who requested anonymity but with good knowledge of the bookbinding business said, “Many people think there is still much need for bookbinderies, but note these days. Students used to visit the bookbindery to get cheaper copies for their classes. Some professors also selected their own materials for binding. However, nowadays, the number is decreasing. Many students prefer reading digital files of books rather than original texts or spring-bound books.”
This tendency leads to another serious illegal act: book scanning. Scanned books do not require the storage space of bound books. Scans are also accessible any time and any place through smartphones or other digital gadgets. To convert books to digital form, professional book scanning businesses have appeared and are profiting. Many countries around the world have also experienced controversy over book scanning. The United States has debated about whether to legalize this industry. On the other hand, Japan has ruled that book scanning is an unlawful industry. It strictly regulates a permissible range of scanning and monitors businesses. In the case of the Korean government, it regards book scanning as illegal and subject to legal penalties for those businesses breaking the Copyright Act.