At the start of a new academic semester, students often have an additional concern — buying textbooks that are often very costly. Maysam Ali and Rania Moussly investigate the costs of course books and what students do to keep expenditure down.

As rewarding and fulfilling as university life is, it can also be a costly experience. Textbooks are the core aid for learning; as such the constant changing and updating of textbooks every semester becomes a pricey affair. With the beginning of the spring semester and the start of new classes and courses, Notes takes a look at how students cope with the spiralling costs of textbooks.

Universities in the UAE supply students with a list of textbooks suggest bookstores where they can buy them or, more recently, organise a book sale or set up a used bookstore where students can trade books.

Book swap

During the first week of every semester at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) an event called the book swap takes place on campus between 9am and 3pm. Students take their used books to the Dean's Business Team office in the business school and determine the price they want to sell them at, depending on the condition and sale price of their competition.

"The same textbook can have many different prices," said Juzar Ishaq, 20, a book swap volunteer and management information systems student at AUS. The business team then increases the price by 10 per cent and displays the books in conference room B109 in the business school. Students drop by between classes to buy them.

All profits made by the Dean's Business Team go to AUS to fund future student events like the Young Entrepreneurs Competition. The profit made by the students who sell their books are reimbursed with campus cash which can be used for campus purchases only. The dealings are done electronically through the campus system.

The business student committee pioneered the event less than three years ago, headed by Professor Ali Al Khawaja — then adviser of the committee — and Murtazan Nanji, an AUS graduate. Book swap is voluntarily run by students and takes place under the watch of Malcom Richards, dean of the Business School and Professor John Ali, adviser to the Dean's Business Team.

The success of book swap generated nearly Dh100,000 last year. As it is against university policy for students to handle such large sums of money, "students buy and sell their books through their university ID cards," said Ishaq. "Students pay cash to fill credit on their cards. When they buy books we charge the card, deducting from their campus cash. For the students who sell their books, we distribute the credit onto their accounts on the system individually, at the end of the week," Ishaq said.

"Our intention is not to compete with the university book store, we just want to benefit the students," he added.

University bookstores, libraries and copy centres

At BITS, Pilani students procure textbooks from the bookstore located at the parent campus in India. While some students buy the books from other bookstores while on vacation in India, others who can't do this, seek to cut expenses by buying second-hand books from their seniors. "The institute does not get involved, leaving students to mutually decide a price and exchange the books," said Nahid Afshan, manager of admissions. "Generally they purchase them at half-price but if the book is in good condition, it is purchased at more than half price."

The institute's library also holds a few copies of each textbook for student circulation; faculty members are provided with a set.

Copyright issues

All the universities interviewed by Notes said they have policies against photocopying books.

Notes spoke to Omar Gamil, team leader of the Copy Centre and Post Office at AUS. The centre is only authorised to copy students' notes but not textbooks. Officially students are required and advised to purchase their books from the university bookstore on campus. "The university has copyrighted materials and as a principle it does not allow the photocopying of textbooks. The university bookstore is an agent for many publishers and if we copy textbooks their sales will drop," said Gamil. When asked for a solution, Gamil said: "We need to get permission from the publishers."

The American University in Dubai (AUD) prohibits photocopying books from the university bookstore. "AUD upholds the UAE Copyrights, which are based on the USA Copyrights and are posted in the university's library by the photocopy machine as well as at the reference section for students' perusal.

In addition, as Rim Ebrahim, external affairs coordinator at AUD, explained, the university's Student Handbook clearly states the following: 'Copying, storing, displaying or distributing copyrighted material using university computing resources without the express permission of the copyright owner, except as otherwise allowed under the copyright law, is prohibited.'

At George Mason University (GMU), Ras Al Khaimah campus, the university does not allow textbooks to be stocked in the library. This is to avoid copyright violations that may result from students photocopying pages from the textbook. "It is against GMU policies and procedures for students to photocopy books.... The GMU-RAK campus follows the copyright law of the USA and the UAE," said Dr Abul Hassan, academic dean of GMU-RAK.

At the University of Wollongong in Dubai, the library abides by the fair use clause that states that 10 per cent of any given work may be photocopied. "In view of this, the library does not condone the photocopying of entire works of books or journals," said Saba Gaffar, manager of Library Services at UOWD.

Students also buy used books from seniors, friends or siblings. Meriam Sehrewerdi, AUS second year finance student, said: "Textbooks are expensive; I get all my books from my elder sister... the prices go up every year, for example a business law book will cost Dh600 one year and Dh800 the next… that's a lot."

Adnan Najmi, an AUS first-year chemical engineering student, said: "Our professors ask us not to photocopy original textbooks as an act of academic integrity." It is advice that students find difficult to heed.

Books budgets

The AUS university bookstore — a private company on campus — refused to talk to Notes. However, the manager did tell us that publishers reduced the prices of textbooks this year as half the 5,000 students currently photocopy textbooks or buy them second-hand.

On average students spend Dh1,400 on textbooks per year. This is not an issue for all students as Sahar Abdul Aziz, 19, a second year accounting and finance student, said: "Some of our professors ask us to acquire the latest editions, others do not mind us working with older editions, but I find it easier to work from new textbooks. It isn't convenient for me to study from a photocopy and the books I need are hardly available at the book swap."

Students at UOWD said they would rather buy the latest edition because it matches the teacher's syllabus and incorporates changes. However, the latest editions are almost always more expensive.

"If the books are expensive, we go for used books. We are usually required to buy the latest edition; it's up to us to buy new books or older ones but we want to make sure we are following up with the class assignments," said Bharti Bhambhani, a finance student at UOWD.

New editions of books

Textbooks at all universities are updated every semester or year. "Academic books are updated every semester according to subjects on offer and requests received by academics," said Saba Gaffar of UOWD.

The university started a system similar to that of AUS around 18 months ago. Bridget Clifford, manager of student services at UOWD, told Notes that the used books idea is becoming very popular on campus. There are currently 300 students who have registered to sell their books.

"This project had a slow take-off because students were not used to the concept of buying and selling books. When we promoted used books, it was crazy. Students brought in their books, made money and now it has become popular," she said.

Previously the university had a minimal role to play, as it had hired an intern to facilitate the buying and selling of books. This year the university is setting up a new facility and joining the university bookstore and the second-hand bookstore. The bookstore will henceforth buy used books from students and sell them.

"Students who want to sell their books fill in a form, set the price of the book and wait for us to send them an email when the books are sold. We take a 20 per cent commission which goes to the cost of this service, and the rest of the money goes to the students," Gaffar said.

The selling price is, on average, 60 per cent that of a new book. It varies according to book conditions and availability.

The new books are priced reasonably, Clifford added, and are often lower in price than those found in other bookstores.

The current system of buying and selling does not distinguish between new and older editions, Clifford said. However, the university advises students to buy the edition required for the semester.

Evaluating the system

"Book swap is a good system; not only is it sophisticated and profitable — but it also keeps students busy, giving them practical business and organisational experience," said Mustafa Hingora, an AUS third-year finance and management student.

"The used bookstore is a great idea… . Students are very appreciative of the fact that they don't have to spend so much money on textbooks," said UOWD's Clifford. The drawback is that some books may not be available. For instance, postgraduate students usually prefer to hold onto their books for future reference.

Original alternatives

Khadija Abu Baker, 21, an AUS fourth-year management information systems student, orders her textbooks online. "Ordering books from Amazon, including the cost of delivery, is much cheaper than buying from the university bookstore," she said.

However, the problem arises in the case of delayed delivery. "There are some course books in the library — at times not enough to go around. If the editions differ it makes it difficult to follow the lecture," Khadija said.

Some students have formed groups on online networking sites in order to trade books online. "We use Facebook to find available books and sell ours. They are very popular and quick," said Sadhvi Bhalla, a UOWD human resources student.

Institutions like the University of Strathclyde Business School and Skyline College, Sharjah, include the price of textbooks in their tuition fees. "We practise a rental procedure whereby every semester, students are issued textbooks from the college library for a nominal price, which is included in their fees," said Dr Amitabh Upadhya, head of academics of Skyline.

"Once the rental has been used by four students we discard it for two reasons — it becomes outdated and worn out," he said.

Agreements with local bookstores

Some universities have agreements with local bookstores for certain books. UOWD has an agreement with two bookshops in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Sharjah. GMU-RAK's campus bookstore is run by a local bookshop that orders books on behalf of the university. "Because we are a branch campus of an American University in Virginia, if need be, we can order books via the main campus bookstore and they will have them couriered to use in the UAE. Additionally, we can contact the publisher directly to order the books," Abul Hasan told Notes.

Bookstore bargains

House of Prose, with two locations in Jumeirah Plaza and Ibn Battuta Mall, is a second-hand bookshop. It is unique in that it allows you to sell back the books you bought at the shop at half the price you paid — provided it is in the same condition; otherwise you are paid less. It stocks mainly fiction but also non-fiction and reference books and dictionaries.

"We help students save on their general reading," said Mike McGinley, owner and founder of House of Prose.

Most expensive books

According to Saba Gaffar, manager of Library Services at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, the cost price of books has gone up since 2007. Business books, which include subjects covering finance, human resources, management, marketing, insurance, property development and management, international business, are more expensive than textbooks used in literature, for example.

Dr Abul R. Hasan, academic dean, George Mason University-Ras Al Khaimah Campus, noted that engineering books tend to be the most expensive at the university.