Free doesn't make it (a) good (deal)

Publication number: 2016-49
Authors: M. Imandt, E. van den Berg, Y. Brouwer, A.L. van der Vegt & E. van Aarsen
Commissioned by: Ministry of Education, Culture and Science
Published by: Oberon & SEO Amsterdam Economics

The Free School Books Act (in Dutch: de Wet Gratis Schoolboeken (WGS)) was introduced in 2008 with two objectives: reducing school costs for parents and increasing competition on the market for learning materials.  SEO Amsterdam Economics and Oberon studied the effects of the act on request of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The study concludes the following:

  1. The total costs of learning materials remain limited as a result of budget constraints imposed by  secondary schools. This is achieved by purchasing fewer additional materials and limiting investments in innovation.
  2. Secondary schools have adopted a more conscious policy on learning materials, but the quality of their procurement process can be improved.
  3. The competition among suppliers is limited, especially among distributors.
  4. The WGS has positively affected the functioning of the market , but it has not solved the underlying problems.
  5. On the market for learning materials, mandatory procurement doesn’t sufficiently contribute to the objectives of the Public Procurement Act (in Dutch: Aanbestedingswet).

Based on this study, various recommendations have been made to improve competition on the market for learning materials. These include improving the transparency in the market, reassessing the scope of the WGS and exploring ways to improve the functioning of the Public Procurement Act. For the future it is particularly important that all market players manage to deal with (the threat of limited competition in) a further consolidated market of one-stop shops: all-in-one offers by suppliers which exclude competition and possibly hamper innovation.

Category: 2016, Emina van den Berg, Labour & Education