Time to talk, do you copy?

五月 31, 2002

Graham Taylor says the new copyright licence won't mean 'free beer, no police'

What do we know of how students study or want to study? The answer, it seems, is remarkably little, and it is perhaps time to start to find out. Where do students turn to for their information? Do they still rely on books? Can we put together the growing concerns of librarians, lecturers, planners, fund-holders, technologists, writers and their publishers to ensure a convergent set of solutions for the future? How to release the full potential of a new system of teaching and learning at a price all can afford?

We need to study all elements of the communication chain, from author to student. The Council of Academic and Professional Publishers (Capp) conducted a survey last year into the information sources and book-buying behaviour of 1,000 students in old and new universities. The results were superficially reassuring for current practice. Overall, students used, in descending order: books owned, books borrowed, handouts and the internet. Science and technology students made most use of handouts; business and management students of the internet; law students and first-year students generally prefer books. Internet use was on average three hours a week, higher in the new universities and among business and management, science and technology and law students. Some 10 per cent of students did not use the internet at all. Other electronic sources were much less significant. But the forces of change are there in the detailed results ( www.publishers.org.uk ).

Course packs loom larger in everyone's thinking these days. We all know what they are but, like terrorism, it is hard to arrive at a precise definition that satisfies all parties. The recent decision of the Copyright Tribunal in the Copyright Licensing Agency-Universities UK case consigned to history a definition that goes back to 1992, when course packs were separated from the higher education blanket licence and Clarcs was born. In 2000, negotiations had stalled over the terms for renewal. The CLA, arguing on behalf of authors, artists and publishers, defended the terms of the licence. After the tribunal, much of the spirit of the old licence remains, with two striking exceptions. Distance learners are no longer exempted, and separate clearance of course packs through Clarcs has been removed.

UUK went to the tribunal arguing that Clarcs was damaging the process of teaching and learning, an argument that it claims to have "won", but at the cost of a higher blanket licence fee (£4.00 from £3.25) and a hefty legal bill. The judgement of the tribunal (www.patent.gov.uk/copy) acknowledges the legitimate concerns of both parties, while hinting that the argument should have been settled without such a long legal wrangle.

Academic publishers remain apprehensive that unrestrained copying for course packs - "free beer and no police" - will undermine primary sales, diminishing the profitability of already marginal but necessary publishing and threatening the sources of the very material needed for course packs. We all hope not, but we now need to build a deeper understanding of the issues, raise the profile of the debate, and embrace the views of all concerned with teaching and learning. The CLA was unable to mount sufficient evidence to convince the tribunal of the substitution effect - the research simply had not been done - although the tribunal acknowledged the concern. Pilot research suggests that about 17 per cent of lecturers use course packs. This activity is expected to grow significantly, with no mechanism for monitoring the increase.

Course packs include - what? Do we know? Extracts from textbooks? Lecturers' own material? Articles from research journals? Material selected from the internet? We need to find out if we are to understand why course-pack usage is rising and why course packs, as argued before the tribunal by UUK, are so essential to the process of education in our universities.

Clearly, the issue here is the customisation of learning material. Lecturers and students want it, the technology allows it, so publishers must provide it. But who pays for it? The library (multi-user licences)? The student (single-user licence, paid-for course packs)? Central funding (blanket licences)? Throughout educational publishing, the market is moving towards localisation and customisation, propelled by technology that enables it and teaching and learning practices that demand it.

So Capp has decided to take the initiative in these matters. We need to establish a benchmark of current practice among lecturers in relation to recommended reading material - reading lists as well as course packs - against which to measure future trends. A pilot study was commissioned in December, and a deeper study is in hand. The plan is to repeat this study year-on-year.

The e-debate has dominated scholarly communication for years. Much has been achieved through dialogue, understanding and collaboration between scholars, their publishers, the libraries and researchers. Now, as universities gear up to deliver the government's target of 50 per cent participation in higher education by 2010, it is the turn of teaching to engage with this debate and to manage the transition into a more fluid, flexible future. Hopefully setbacks such as the tribunal reference will be put behind us, and all stakeholders can work together for a deeper understanding of students' learning needs and how best to provide for them. As Sir Brian Fender, recently retired chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said to the Capp conference organised with City University in April: "There are many strategic opportunities for public-private partnerships in education, and the opportunities outweigh the challenges."

Graham Taylor is director, Council of Academic and Professional Publishers.

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