In collaboration with ResearchNed, Peter Huisman and Frans de Vijlder, SEO Amsterdam Economics has performed a legal evaluation of the Wet fusietoets (Act merger assessment). This act stipulates that mergers between school boards require the approval of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, where a review threshold applies; primary school board mergers that involve less than ten schools and institutional mergers of primary schools involving fewer than 500 pupils require no review and approval. However, also in these cases educational institutions who want to merge still need to complete a pre-structured merger impact report (FER) prior to a merger.

Within the education arena the Act merger assessment can be seen in many ways as a response to the scale increase that has taken place in secondary vocational education and higher professional education, but since it came into force in 2011 it has actually been used in the vast majority of cases in fundamental education. Most applications by far came from primary and secondary schools. Only two merger applications were submitted by institutions in the field of secondary vocational education. In fundamental education especially, the need for cooperation and mergers has increased in recent years due to various circumstances, such as a decline in the number of students and a desire for suitable education. In these sectors there is a growing need for (board) mergers and cooperation in order to continue to provide a broad and varied curriculum.

The study concludes that the Act merger assessment yields unclear results, is open in some areas and strict in others when it comes to the review framework, and in practice doesn’t have the desired effects on a number of points (such as the human dimension, actual freedom of choice at the local level, and in tackling shrinkage). It is partly because of these reasons that the Act merger assessment is met with much resistance in the field. Taking everything into consideration, the researchers recommend a fundamental reassessment of the Act merger assessment and the corresponding policy rules, which should consider how the legislation can be arranged in such a way that parties at the local and regional level can collaborate optimally and where the review framework should focus more on where the real risks lie for the human dimension and freedom of choice. In this regard, sectoral differences should be given greater importance.