KPU Offers More than 50 Arts Courses with No Textbook Costs as Part of “Zed Cred” Program

Thanks to a $35,000 grant from BCcampus, KPU continues to lead the way in open education resources


According to advocacy group BCcampus, Kwantlen Polytechnic University is leading the way for open education, and has adopted more open education resources than any other post-secondary institution in the province.

Now, to further dedicate themselves to offering open and affordable education, KPU is unveiling the “Zed Cred” program, Canada’s first post-secondary program to use nothing but free, open source course materials.

“I’m very proud that Kwantlen is delivering on a core aspect of their mission here, and that we’re choosing to support open education,” says KPU Psychology professor and senior open education fellow for BCcampus Rajiv Jhangiani. “I think people should realize that—not just across the country, but internationally—people learn about Kwantlen because of this because people are trying to copy what Kwantlen is doing.”

The Zed Cred program was made possible by a $35,000 grant from BCcampus.

Beginning with the spring semester, KPU students will be able to take a full year of university courses without paying any textbook costs. Participating courses will be labeled as “commercial textbook-free” in the course description and will only use open-source material. As a stand-alone program, students using the Zed Cred can earn KPU’s Certificate of Arts credential. The courses can also be applied to any Faculty of Arts degree offered by KPU.

“We are deliberately trying to focus on areas that will help the maximum number of degrees,” says Jhangiani.

“I think [we] as students should be super excited about this,” says Kwantlen Student Association President Tanvir Singh. “I think this is going to lead to a lot more faculty [members] taking open education a lot more seriously.”

Open education textbooks are published under creative commons licenses by non-profit organisations such as the B.C. Open Textbook Project and can be downloaded for free by students and instructors. Unlike traditional textbooks, open source textbooks can be modified and adapted for individual needs by instructors before they are assigned.

Jhangiani says that the cost of traditional commercial textbooks has increased by 1,000 per cent since 1977—by three times the rate of inflation. This means that the cost of textbooks has risen more than any other consumer good since then. Singh likens the cost of textbooks on top of regular course fees to a 20 per cent tax on tuition.

According to BCcampus, course withdrawals and failure rates decrease when open education resources are made available to students.

Research done by open education advocates has revealed that 54 per cent of B.C. students don’t buy some or all of the required textbooks for their classes due to an inability or unwillingness to pay. Unsurprisingly, data from BCcampus suggests that students who don’t have all of the assigned course material tend to end up with lower grades.

“Students at KPU don’t buy textbooks because of cost. It’s one of the biggest reasons,” says Singh. “If we have an entire diploma where students don’t have to actually spend any money on textbooks and those textbooks are provided free of cost, they’re more likely to use them and they’re more likely to to succeed in their classes.”

As the first province making a government-supported effort to create and adopt open education resources, B.C. is the top province in Canada for open education. And with BCcampus acknowledging KPU as the top institution in the province for adoption of open education resources, it can confidently claim to be the nation’s leader in open education.

Jhangiani commends the Open Education Resources working group, which is constituted by KPU faculty, for pushing university administration to support the open education movement and helping teach other KPU faculty about its benefits.

“The creation of the [OER working] group has been absolutely critical, but at the same time there are other places that have done the same thing without nearly as much success, so I have to credit the university president and vice-president academic,” says Jhangiani. “It’s rare to have a university president and vice-president academic that understand open education as much as Alan Davis and Sal Ferreras do.”