"Free" knowledge

Wouldn’t we all like to get that?
Free knowledge, in a society like ours, where knowing stuff is the key to success and a bigger monthly paycheck.

In an effort to reduce the financial burden on (young) families, our Cabinet has ruled in their great wisdom all books in the Dutch version of High school (Middelbaar Onderwijs) should be supplied to all students, regardless of their financial situation or anything else.
As it happens under the cloak of cost reduction for all of those who have children between ages 12 and 18 – ages where kids tend to cost the most – this should relieve the pressure on the parents a bit.
Books are not cheap, and can easily cost up to €500 per child per year.

Now for the hard part: the money which has to be spent by our government to buy all books for these kids (about 120 million euro per year) has to be raised somehow. The question is: how?
After quite some debating over at the ministry of education and the cabinet a solution was found: it should come from raising the traffic fines and also charge the offendors with the transaction costs, a pile of money they had left over in case of rough times and the rapid introduction of revised taxing on gambling. All in all: by making several other things more expensive, something becomes cheaper. How ironic.

Secondly, the teachers concerned are quite worried about the fact that a fixed-pricing system, where the government is the sole buyer, could lead to lower quality of books as the need to compete with eachother on that quality by the editors is now gone. Also, they are foreseeing the misuse of the extra money handed to the schools, without it being used to buy books. The teachers demand tools to check whether the right amount of money has been spent on books, and not on trips to the Efteling, or the redecoration of the office of the head of the school.

Ok, all problems and issues now are overcome, as schools have promised to buy new books on a regular basis, and will use the money only to buy books. There have not been demonstrations against the raises as proposed, nor has anyone thought of the economic consequences of a (reversed) state monopoly on the market for schoolbooks.

Now for the fun part: due to regulations superimposed on Dutch laws by the European Union, projects which exceed (an amazingly low amount of) about €250.000 in price have to be tendered Europe-wide.
Thus: the (groups of) schools have to announce public tenders for them trying to buy schoolbooks, which can be quite lengthy procedures. And there’s the catch.
In 2008 (yes, that would be the year we now live in) the books should be free. And no, a tender-procedure lasts longer than the time that is between today and the start of the next schoolyear in august 2008.

How come this has not been noticed by anyone before?
Oh well: we are stuck with it now, until a new cabinet sees the ridicule of the proposed free availability of schoolbooks, and reverses the law. That’s democracy for you!

How do you feel on this topic? Should books be free? Should the procedure have been more thought out?

2 thoughts on “"Free" knowledge”

  1. Hm. Interesting question. And fyi, 250K is hardly an amazingly low amount. Don’t forget that that’s per school – a school would have to have 500+ students if the per-student total is €500,-. Far from all have that many. Of course, if you cluster your schools to get bulk advantages, it’ll probably happen quite soon… And if the government will institute central tenders for all schools, it’ll reach far into the tens of millions. But the european tender law wasn’t engineered to cover such projects, it was designed to cover mostly investment by single governmental bodies doing investment.

    One other thing that gets me worried is that european tenders have specific acceptance rules, which usually place a very strict emphasis on price. Meaning, you have to have some very solid arguments to pick anything óther than the cheapest price. This’ll lead to even more deterioration of book quality and is, imho, a bigger factor than the no competency. Don’t forget that competing on quality is still a factor even if there’s a buyer’s monopoly, especially once you consider the fact that there’s still an international market (although it’s pretty small for dutch-only books…). There’s just no niches in this market, as there’s just one buyer. But if you force that buyer to decide on price, such as the tender law virtually does…

    By the way, they recently said that at least for this year, the plan was deemed impossible and scrapped, partially because of the reason you mentioned.

  2. I’d say it’s a low amount, yet that might have to do with me being fairly knowledgeable with clustered schools.
    I’m pretty familiar with a group of schools called Penta-College, which has 7 schools of about 5800 students in total, and 540+ teachers. My own highschool had about 800 students in two locations, and now has grown to three locations which hold 1100+ students. Recently, they’ve merged into a bigger cluster of 6 schools and is now totalling 5200+ students and 550+ employees. I’ll be easy for any of those clusters to go over the 250K in a tender.

    Other than the above, I agree with you. European tenders focus on price instead of quality. It’ll probably lead to the (poor) translation of a German schoolbook into Dutch by a Romanian to be sold back to us by a Frenchman who sees the gap in the market.
    Europe: yay!

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