Skip to main content

Canadian university syllabuses with academic and non-academic assigned readings identified.

Cite this dataset

Willinsky, John; Baron, Catherine (2021). Canadian university syllabuses with academic and non-academic assigned readings identified. [Dataset]. Dryad.


In the context of the significant court battles that are being fought over the potential copyright infringement involved in distributing the articles and excerpts assigned to students in university courses, this study analyzes 3,391 course syllabuses (2015-2020) from nine provinces and 34 universities across Canada. It identifies the types and proportions of required readings among academic and non-academic sources. Academic readings are assigned on 26.6 percent of the syllabuses, compared to 8.3 percent of syllabuses for media articles and trade book chapters. Among the assigned readings, journal articles lead the list (with 54.3% of all readings), compared to scholarly book chapters (33.5%), media articles (6.0%), and trade book chapters (6.3%). The social sciences lead in the assignment of journal articles and the humanities in  trade book chapters, while science was least likely to have assigned readings of any type. The study also found that textbooks are required on a majority of syllabuses (66.0%), with only minor differences in this proportion across science, social sciences, and humanities. The data enable a further analysis at the page level of what the average student is asked to read annually, which, at the Access Copyright current tariff of $14.31 (approved by the Canadian Copyright Board), amounts to a $0.021 per page. This rate is applied in a proposed new “three-step syllabus rule” that avoids double-charging students for academic materials (90.1% of readings by pages), while fairly compensating professional authors and their publishers (9.9%), with the data analyzed here suggesting a $1.40 annual charge per student for their assigned readings.


Using web-scraping strategies that attempted to target course syllabuses at Canadian universities, we collected 5,898 documents from nine of Canada’s ten provinces (Table 1). Of these, 3,916 proved to be unique syllabuses for the period 2015-2020. We eliminated 525 of the syllabuses that referred to assigned readings but did not identify them (as they were to be found in a coursepack or on a website). This left 3,391 syllabuses, of which 2,800 listed readings and/or textbooks, and 591 of them having no required or assigned items, although these courses sometimes listed optional and recommended materials for the students. 

These syllabuses come from 34 of Canada’s 96 universities located in nine of Canada’s ten provinces (minus Prince Edward Island). The distribution of syllabuses among institutions ran from a high of 386 syllabuses (11.4% of total) collected from Western University to the two (0.1%) collected from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, with a mean of 99.7 syllabuses per university. Of the 3,391 syllabuses, 86.3 percent (2,926) are in English and 13.7 percent (465) are in French. Courses in science accounted for 42.6 percent (1,443) of the syllabuses, the social sciences 37.1 percent (1,258), and the humanities 20.3 percent (690). No distinction is made between graduate and undergraduate course syllabuses as the Access Copyright tariff applies to all university students. While we were unable to locate a reliable source of information on how many courses are taught in Canada annually, if Canada’s roughly 1.3 million full-time university students may be assumed to be taking 8.2 courses a year (see below fn 6) in classes averaging 25 students across the country, then this sample of 3,391 syllabuses amounts to less than 0.9 percent of the courses offered annually 2015-2020 (Postsecondary enrollments, 2018).