When he realized taking an online course was going to cost more than just the tuition fee, Concordia student Michael Harlev was teeming with anger.
Harlev, like many other students, opted to take a course online because of the convenience; it was proving difficult to find a microeconomics course to fit with his work schedule.
While registering for the online economics course offered by eConcordia, Harlev said he was shocked to find out that, in order to register, students were obliged to purchase a PDF version of the course text for about $65.
Harlev was hoping to use a copy of the book his sister bought brand new last year for roughly $100.
“They are taking advantage of us,” he said. “This is literally them stealing money from us.”
Harlev said he would be willing to pay more for the convenience of taking an online course. But, he said, it is “completely unfair and unjust” that completing the registration process is contingent on purchasing a book.
Andrew McAusland, president and CEO of eConcordia, dismissed the accusations, saying the organization does not establish which materials are required for online courses.
“The fact of the matter is, when you register for an online course, the professor controls the content,” he said. “The books are an integral part of the offering. The contents of the book reflect the content of the course.”
Perhaps more importantly, McAusland said, is that eConcordia has to respect Canadian copyright laws which protect the financial rights of copyright owners, making it illegal to copy any creative work without permission or license.
Once a student is registered in a course, McAusland said, eConcordia must pay the copyright fee for that seat.
“I am not sure why it would be perceived as unjust to be obliged to follow the law and the demands of the course as outlined by the professor,” he said.
eConcordia is separate from the university. But, as McAusland explained, it operates “barely at arm’s length,” from Concordia, sharing a number of board members and taking instruction from the university with regards to its operations.
Though the business used to be for profit, it has spent the majority of its 10 years operating as a federally-incorporated, non-profit company. As a non-profit, eConcordia can transfer unused funds and earnings to the university, instead of paying taxes on them, McAusland said.
As far as Harlev’s concerns, the president of eConcordia said that in the 10 years the company has been offering online courses to students, this is the first time he has fielded a complaint about required texts.
Even if this is the first time eConcordia has heard this particular complaint, the CSU Student Advocacy Centre said it has heard this before 8212; and they’re on the side of the students.
“Students have complained about this already,” said Sumaiya Gangat, an advocate who works at the centre which helps Concordia students exercise and preserve their rights at the university. “We don’t think it’s OK to be forced to buy anything.”
Gangat said the Advocacy Centre is not in a position to help Harlev since eConcordia operates independently of the university. She suggested the student work with the CSU Legal Information Clinic to see what options exist as a consumer protection issue.
For the time being, eConcordia will continue to operate as it has. Admitting he was speaking more harshly than usual, McAusland said bluntly, “This is how it is. If a student doesn’t want to buy the books, they don’t have to take the class online. Take it in the classroom.”