Making the case for OERs in Manitoba: A look at the financial savings of open education

Dylan WoodcockBlogs

When we launched the Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative in 2015, our primary goal was to make higher education more accessible by reducing students’ costs through the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) at post-secondary institutions across the province. While there are many benefits to OER adoption, this article will focus on the financial benefits that emphasize just how much students and institutions could save by adopting OERs into post-secondary curricula.

How do OERs save students money? How much are post-secondary institutions currently saving with OERs?

OERs are free online resources that are fully adaptable by post-secondary faculty. For many students, having access to a free resource can make education much more affordable. And for those who still prefer physical textbooks, OER hard copies can also be produced at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks. In addition to reducing course material costs for students, an article written by the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) suggests that including more OERs in post-secondary courses could result in better learning outcomes and lower rates of course withdrawals. The article states that “by replacing costly traditional textbooks and having faculty use customizable, online learning materials, the student learning experience becomes more nuanced, contemporary, and inclusive.”

Here in Manitoba so far, students have saved $1,035,624 by using open textbooks. Across the country, we’re also seeing a remarkable impact: students at the University of Saskatchewan have saved more than $1.18 million through OER adoptions; students across Ontario have saved over $5.2 million through eCampus Ontario; and the province-wide savings accrued by BCcampus totals between $12-$13.5 million.

How much could Manitoba students save by post-secondary institutions adopting OERs?

In an effort to continue to push for greater affordability in post-secondary education, UMSU conducted some research into the potential dollars students could save through the adoption of OERs. Below are some of their most significant findings, published in January 2019:

People sitting in auditorium.
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash
  • 86% of students at the University of Manitoba (U of M) have bought a required textbook for a course, only to end up using less than 10% of that textbook.
  • 1 out of 5 undergraduate students have opted to voluntarily withdraw from a desired course, or have avoided enrolling altogether, because the learning materials were too expensive.
  • At the University of Manitoba, it is estimated that the average first-year student taking a 30-credit course load would spend $1,700 on mandatory textbooks. By substituting traditional textbooks with colour-printed copies of high-quality OER alternatives, we could reduce that cost burden by 54%. If a student printed their copy in black-and-white, the cost would instead reduce by 85%. If the student opts to solely access their OER digitally, the cost to the student would reduce by 100%.

While the cost is free to the student, there is still an expenditure associated with OERs. But following the upfront investment that enable faculty to aid in the review, adoption, creation, or maintenance of OERs, post-secondary institutions will see a return on investment that will eclipse the initial cost. As UMSU reports, rather than achieving student savings through scholarship and bursary programs (which involve large investments each year in order to keep up with demand and inflation), the adoption of OERs saves students money in a sustainable and more cost-efficient manner to the institution.

What can you do to increase awareness and use of open resources in Manitoba?

UMSU’s research found that on their campus, 77% of student respondents had never heard of an OER. Only 5% had ever used an OER in a course. This speaks to how much awareness needs to be raised pertaining to the value and usefulness of OERs.

Many successful OER initiatives have targeted first-year courses where textbooks are typically the most generalized, and the costs are usually the highest. When it comes to encouraging faculties to adopt OERs, it’s helpful to identify “champions” within departments who can work as advocates to their colleagues. In addition to promoting the cost savings for both students and institutions, consider also focusing on the environmental benefits, the advantage of having tailored learning materials, and the greater accessibility that OERs allow.


For more information on OERs and how you can support their development, Campus Manitoba is here to help. We can direct you to many resources and connect you with experts who can guide you through the creation process.