Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Lecturers: A Bit On The Side

12th October, 2009

It’s pretty clear that even while I’m writing this one, it’s going to be contentious. I’ve tried to be balanced in the way I present this, taking comments made by people I have talked to about this who have both agreed with and disagreed with what I’ve said. I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you’re a student who’s also been in this position, or if you’re a lecturer, whether you’ve required students to purchase your book for your course or not. Meanwhile, hopefully the lolcats will break this one up a bit…

Before I started the year-long industrial placement I’m currently on, I went back to University for a day with the intention of attending lectures.

The first lecture I was scheduled was a module that students from all of Systems Engineering (so we’re talking IT, Computer Science, Robotics, Cybernetics, Engineering and all the combinations) are required to take in Part 3 (irrespective of if this is their final year or not).

Twice before the commencement of the year, the entire group was sent an e-mail explaining in no uncertain terms (I don’t have permission to publish it here) that a particular text book is required for the course, and detailing how everyone will need it every week and how there won’t be anywhere enough copies in the Library.

Fine, you may think. I took a bit of an exception to this, as the book in question was written by the lecturers who were teaching the course. Fairly mundane and routine, you may say. And some people would agree with that view point, raising points such as there are no other decent books to cover the topic, so the lecturers provided one.

However, I see it from a different perspective.

Surely if the lecturers were designing a book for this course, and they work at this University, and their job is to educate their students, surely we should have access to this book - which, I remind you, is required for our studies - with no additional charge to us? Seeing as we are paying ever-increasing fees for our tuition, surely it would not be much extra work for them to either ensure that there is enough copies in the Library for the students for whom this text is required, or to provide the text as a free PDF for the students to use?

I delved a little further, and to my even greater dismay, almost the entire book is available free on Google Books (with a few pages missing from each chapter). So why were we not pointed to this by the lecturer, who instead gave us a link to the Amazon page for the book?

Others will argue that it was the lecturer’s work in their own time, so they are entitled to sell it, and other arguments. What do you think about the whole thing? Let me and others interested in this story know in the comments below.