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Konstantin Yuganov

The outcry from a group of first-year students forced to buy an expensive art history book that has no art in it has focused attention on an issue as perennial and seemingly as intractable as fall back-to-school jitters: the cost of college and university textbooks.

"Many students are paying upwards of $1,000 per year for textbooks," said Jessica McCormick, deputy chairwoman with the Canadian Federation of Students. "That is another financial burden that adds to the debt that is sinking this generation."

The Ontario College of Art and Design argued it was mindful of cost when prescribing the $180 art history textbook that has blank spaces instead of pictures — students have to find the art online. The alternative would have been a book with art costing $800, the school said, an explanation that smoothed few feathers. Professors argue student readings are essential, and say there's little they can do.

"A large proportion of the material that students need for a proper university education is only available through either commercially published books or journals," said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"In terms of textbooks, there aren't a lot of good options available."