SEVERAL MONTHS ago, Professor Ma Gwang-soo required the students taking his class to submit the receipt of their textbooks along with their report. This caused an uproar amongst the student body, and some students directly opposed the professor by not buying the textbook. Although this may seem like a complex student-teacher conflict, the cause of such conflict stems from a simple difference of opinions regarding buying textbooks. These days, more and more students refuse to buy textbooks, while others insist that buying textbooks is obligatory for university students. What are the reasons for each side’s action and what can be the best solution to solve this problem?
How many textbooks are in your bookshelf? In the past, buying textbooks was considered normal. However, these days, more and more university students started to disregard textbooks. According to a survey done by Campus Week, more than 90% of 1,673 student respondents replied that they regret purchasing textbooks for lectures. This was mainly because the prices of textbooks were too expensive, and the textbooks have not been used efficiently in lectures. Furthermore, in case of non-major courses, a larger percentage of students were unwilling to buy textbooks, using photocopied versions as cheaper alternatives. This changing trend is also observed in Aladdin, a second-hand bookstore in Sinchon, where about 20 to 30 second-hand textbooks are bought and sold every day. All these changes show the existence of alternatives to textbooks and the students’ increasing suspicions on the need of textbooks.
Why we should buy
Although Professor Ma was heavily criticized for his unusual requirement, Ma posted a notice on the free board in Yonsei University’s homepage on March 25, stating that his decision was a part of his education policy, and was a natural responsibility of a student. According to the posting, 50 students bought the textbook for his class, but this is a very small figure when considering the whole number of students in this class was about 600. He did not conceal his disappointment towards the students who did not buy the textbook and criticized their lack of respect for his class. He said that the students were very “impudent” and described them as “soldiers without guns on the battlefield”.
Professor Ma’s main reason for requiring students to buy textbooks was that it was simply one of the student’s main responsibilities to do so. Regarding this opinion, several Yonseians supported Ma by posting short comments. Surely, when students have their own textbook, it would help them concentrate better in class. With their textbooks, students can freely write down memos and look for the information they need whenever they want. However, when students borrow textbooks from their friends or library, they cannot freely use them. Also, when students copy the textbooks, this is an illegal way unless it is allowed by the author of the textbook. In a nutshell, the reason why students should buy textbooks is closely related to the students’ fundamental duty and the effectiveness of studying.
Why we did not buy
Although some professors are strongly insisting that students should buy textbooks, a lot of students do not feel obligated to buy textbooks. The dominant response from the opposing side is that textbooks are too expensive. While most students usually gain money by having part-time jobs or receiving allowance from their parents, the reality of the total average cost of their textbooks going up to \100,000, as 30% of the respondents replied to Campus Life, is just too burdensome and unpleasant. Yoon Min-ju (Fresh, Dept. of Korean Language & Lit.) said, “I believe that textbooks are essential, but high prices make me uncomfortable when buying them.” In 2011, there was even an incident where someone stole textbooks in Yonsei’s Central Library. All these show how high prices of textbooks become a large burden for university students.
In addition to high prices of textbooks, many students agree that buying heavy textbooks is an inefficient way to study when there have been advances in modern technology, such as E-book services. Carrying thick and heavy textbooks while using public transportation such as subways and buses cannot be any more stressful. Moreover, textbooks do not always have to be new; students can get their textbooks from their sun-baes or the flea market at a relatively cheap price. A receipt of a new textbook does not prove students’ sincerity for the class.
Although there are various factors clashing in this controversy, there are several possible solutions. One solution is a service which allows the students to borrow textbooks for an extended period. In some universities, such as Seoul National University, this service is already in effect. However, this service is not perfect in that the school may have to pay for the damage when students misuse the textbooks, which in the long run might raise the probability of discontinuing the service.
Another is the flea market. In a flea market, students can get a used textbook for a cheap price. In a similar way, handing over the textbook between sun-baes and hu-baes is thought to be one of the solutions for this issue. However, this solution is not perfect because the flea market cannot fulfill all demands for textbooks.
Therefore, a more fundamental solution like professors making full use of the textbooks in their lectures is suggested, so that the students would not regret buying the textbooks. Also, lowering the price of the textbooks may be an important enhancement, since it is only the price that students are uncomfortable with, not buying textbooks itself. However, the price of textbooks may not be lowered easily, because many economic agents such as the author and the publishing company are direct benefactors from the sale of textbooks. Therefore, a more realistic solution to lower the prices is necessary for students and professors. Purchasing textbooks as a group could be recommended since students would be able to buy them at a lower price.
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Though advances in technology have made textbooks inefficient and high prices have repelled students from buying textbooks, it is true that preparing textbooks is one of the essential duties of the students. Students should not avoid their responsibility by having high prices of books as an excuse. However, since high prices become a large burden to students, a more fundamental approach will have to be thought of. It is important that both sides try their best to agree on the changing trend in modern society and the students’ duty by active communication.