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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

High quality books for each student in university; costs ?

Take for instance a book such as "The Symmetries of Things". Such a book with lots of figures, colors, and heavy, shiny paper, is intriguing for students. A student would hold it in his hands, feel its weight, perceive the color figures, and most importantly, feel the value of the book. This might be one possible incentive for him to spend more time with the book, not just catching up with lectures but also discovering what's there in later, more advanced chapters.

I was wondering why didn't we have such books in university (a state university in Egypt). As a matter of fact we did, but only cheap photocopies of them, with cheap paper. This was due to the high prices of books an average student would not be able to afford. Some initiatives was there (By Dr.Waleed Yousef, as far as I can recall) to encourage students to buy a book and sell it later for half price for the next class, effectively paying only half price. I've also heard from a friend (I think it was Khaled Essawy), that in Kuwaiti schools (not universities), students get a high quality book at the beginning of the year and return it after the year ends, in perfect condition, for the next class. If it was not in perfect condition the student may be required to pay.

Another solution is to activate the role of university's library (which I've only seen once during my 4 years of undergrad!). A student may go there with some study mates (3 to 4) and study together from the same book. The library isn't just a collection of books and scholarly articles but also a meeting room and a place for concentration, that's what I've discovered after travelling and seeing other universities*. It also encourages team work and group study where people can find all the resources they need around them.

However this wasn't what I had in mind when I started this post. I actually was thinking how much would it cost us to buy each student in university the books he needed, in high quality. Let's assume that a high quality printing of a book with colors and heavy paper is 400 LE. In my undergraduate faculty we have 1200 students (300 students for 4 classes). Assuming each student needs 10 books per academic year, then that's 1200*400*10 = 4.8 million.

That's indeed a large number so we may need some optimization a la Kuwaiti model. Say that we bought those books once and then students pass them to the next class. Say that 10% of those books are in unacceptable condition (torn, having writings IN them, or lost), so after paying the initial 4.8 million once, we only need to pay 480,000 LE per year to buy a replacement. However a student who has his book in an unacceptable state must pay the full price (to discourage stealing and encourage him to take care of his books). But assume 10% of them fail to pay (for one reason or another), so we will only need to pay 48,000 per year.

On the other hand a student who buys a photocopied book may pay up to 50 LE per book. So he may be willing to pay 40 LE for a high quality printing (although a used book). This multiplied by each student, each year, actually sums up to 48,000 LE, which exactly covers the costs of lost books ! So here we go, we only need 4.8 million to start, and we need nothing more to sustain it :) (except if we suddenly change all our text books, which is far from happening).

* Not to mention the RFID gate to prevent people from stealing books while not intimidating them away. Nor the barcode-based fully automated borrowing system...

** The article was lost after completing, so I wrote it again. The original one was better.


ضياء الدين said...

I Can't agree more

raouf said...

This is a very good scenario, a big problem is the initial 4.8 Million can you imagine this number?

Mohammad Alaggan said...

This number is not very big compared to our new Helwan University stadium which costed millions as well :)