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A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

If You Are So Smart, Why Are You Stuck in Kutaisi?

Rachvelis, the natives of a beautiful highland region in western Georgia, have a reputation for being slow but thorough in speaking and behavior. Whether slow or not, Rachvelis are certainly not dumb. At least according to their performance in the national General Ability Test (GAT). In 2012, students from Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti (R-L-KS) were 2nd (!) after Tbilisi on the average GAT performance (Chart 1). Yet, not as many Rachvelis as one would expect end up in the best Georgian universities (Chart 2), which, judging by the average GAT performance of admitted students, are located in Tbilisi (Maia Chanqseliani, 2012). Thus, in 2012, while ranked 2nd on GAT, R-L-KS was only 7th by the share of students admitted to Tbilisi-based universities. Conversely, disproportionately many Rachvelis chose to study closer to home, e.g. in Akaki Tsereteli Kutaisi State University – 43rd on Chanqseliani’s ranking of Georgian higher education institutions!

Racha-Lechkhumi &Kvemo Svaneti region is 2nd after Tbilisi on the General Ability Test…

chart1

 

But 7th on the share of students admitted to Tbilisi-based universities

 

chart2

 

 

One may discount the significance of Chanqseliani’s ranking and Rachvelis’ educational choices given that many of the programs offered by Kutaisi State University are of rather decent quality, at least by the Georgian standards. Yet, what her ranking does capture is the quality of peer and network effects in education, which research shows to be an extremely important factor in determining learning outcomes and future earnings. In other words, the quality of human environment in which students find themselves early in their life – not what they study, but who they study with - has a tremendous impacts on their future success. Essentially, by choosing, or being forced, to study in Kutaisi, Rachvelis diminish their chances of moving up the social ladder.


EDUCATIONAL CHOICES AND THE PERSISTENCE OF REGIONAL DISPARITIES

In principle, the system of national tests which Georgia introduced in 2006 was a great leap forward towards meritocracy in education and social mobility. Students who perform very well in these tests are eligible for government scholarships that allow them to study, free of charge or at a large discount, at any public university. These grants can also be applied towards the cost of tuition in more expensive private institutions.

Yet, as we saw above, the allocation of regional talent across universities is still biased towards second-tier provincial universities.

One factor distorting educational choices is distance. For example, above 90% of students from Tbilisi, Kvemo Kartli and Mtskheta-Mtianeti (which are closest to Tbilisi) study in the capital city. Another factor is the presence (or not) of a local university: while also relatively close to Tbilisi, students from Shida Kartli and Kakheti have the choice of studying at the universities of Gori and Telavi, respectively. Imereti and Adjara, which are both remote from Tbilisi and offer a local option, send the lowest proportion of students to Tbilisi (54% and 40%, respectively).

These two factors play an important role in determining education choices because the government scholarships do not cover the cost of housing and living expenses for out-of-town students. The higher costs of living in the capital may prevent students from Racha and other rural locations from studying in Tbilisi regardless of their GAT performance.

Yet another factor affecting educational choices is language and ethnicity. For example, the Armenian-dominated Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is relatively close to Tbilisi and does not offer a local alternative, sends a relatively small share of students (less than 59%) to the capital’s universities. According to anecdotal evidence, the most talented Samtskhe-Javakhetians are studying … in Armenia.

To sum up, the quality of, say, mathematics or engineering education at some of the provincial universities may not be inferior to that offered by Tbilisi State Technical University. However, the sorting of students and universities according to prestige considerations does have a very significant affect on educational outcomes, occupations and, consequently, social mobility. To the extent to which this sorting is distorted by the distance and cost factors, it reinforces existing regional disparities while generating welfare losses for the individuals involved and the economy as whole. To eliminate or reduce these welfare losses, state scholarships should include a living stipend component to encourage the (perhaps) slow but smart Rachvelis to study in a better human environment offered by the more prestigious Tbilisi-based universities.

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Guest - Nino on Monday, 24 June 2013 17:26

Thanks for dedicating such an interesting post!
Indeed, distance appears to play a role in choosing the university. However, I would not attribute all the differences to the financial situation. One more determinant might be the distance itself. Parents choose to have their "children" close to them in case they need help. Additionally, if you consider Rachvelis moving to Kutaisi, they need to be provided accommodation there, too. As for accommodation, there is one more option _ living with the relative that has been quite widespread and some students practice the same now, too.
Another thing to keep in mind is what you mention, in fact. Some universitites in the regions might be better than Tbilisi in preparing some professions. For instance, if a person wants to become a sailor, the only way is to study in Batumi. And I have also heard that English language is better taught in Kutaisi State University than anywhere in Tbilisi.
And last point I want to make is the need for education in Tbilisi. I was indeed lucky that my parents afforded my accommodation (before I got married :)) and I was even luckier to have studied at ISET. However, I believe I have not yet really contributed to narrowing the regional disparities. I did not go back to Kutaisi, add value here in Tbilisi and do not support my parents financially (do not increase their living standards, in a way). On the other hand, if I go to Kutaisi, I doubt I will be able find the job suitable for my qualification. The bottomline is that for people planning to return to their regions after graduating, the local universities might also serve quite good. And in the end, absolute shares of students studying in Tbilisi is still quite impressive, even though accommodation problem is not solved by the government.
Thanks for the wonderful post once again!

Thanks for dedicating such an interesting post! Indeed, distance appears to play a role in choosing the university. However, I would not attribute all the differences to the financial situation. One more determinant might be the distance itself. Parents choose to have their "children" close to them in case they need help. Additionally, if you consider Rachvelis moving to Kutaisi, they need to be provided accommodation there, too. As for accommodation, there is one more option _ living with the relative that has been quite widespread and some students practice the same now, too. Another thing to keep in mind is what you mention, in fact. Some universitites in the regions might be better than Tbilisi in preparing some professions. For instance, if a person wants to become a sailor, the only way is to study in Batumi. And I have also heard that English language is better taught in Kutaisi State University than anywhere in Tbilisi. And last point I want to make is the need for education in Tbilisi. I was indeed lucky that my parents afforded my accommodation (before I got married :)) and I was even luckier to have studied at ISET. However, I believe I have not yet really contributed to narrowing the regional disparities. I did not go back to Kutaisi, add value here in Tbilisi and do not support my parents financially (do not increase their living standards, in a way). On the other hand, if I go to Kutaisi, I doubt I will be able find the job suitable for my qualification. The bottomline is that for people planning to return to their regions after graduating, the local universities might also serve quite good. And in the end, absolute shares of students studying in Tbilisi is still quite impressive, even though accommodation problem is not solved by the government. Thanks for the wonderful post once again!
Guest - RT on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 00:03

Is there a link to Chanqseliani, 2012 ranking?

Is there a link to Chanqseliani, 2012 ranking?
Guest - Eric Livny on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 00:21
http://css.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=56&info_id=498 This is the link to her paper
Guest - Vusal Mammadrzayev on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 01:02

It can also be very interesting to look the participation rate in the Tbilisi universities between men and women from the indicated region. As I know, Some families are trying to keep their daughters nearby and prefer their study in nearer regions. Of course, it is not the case for all families, but some of them is so protectionist. I think the participation rate of men is higher compared to women'. This can also be one of the factors influence the participation rate in Tbilisi universities.

It can also be very interesting to look the participation rate in the Tbilisi universities between men and women from the indicated region. As I know, Some families are trying to keep their daughters nearby and prefer their study in nearer regions. Of course, it is not the case for all families, but some of them is so protectionist. I think the participation rate of men is higher compared to women'. This can also be one of the factors influence the participation rate in Tbilisi universities.
Guest - Eric Livny on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 12:04

A very interesting thought, Vusal! We did not have individual data when doing this analysis but perhaps such data (still aggregated but with separate averages for male and females) could be released by NAEC. If this is the case, larger scholarships will not help unless part of a "package" assuring parents that their daughters will be safe in Tbilisi.

A very interesting thought, Vusal! We did not have individual data when doing this analysis but perhaps such data (still aggregated but with separate averages for male and females) could be released by NAEC. If this is the case, larger scholarships will not help unless part of a "package" assuring parents that their daughters will be safe in Tbilisi.
Guest - Tatia on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 03:18

Another non-financial explanation could be the fact that some Georgian families (from regions) with few children tend to “force” their offspring to choose universities in the same region in order to be close to parents while studying and even during working after graduation. One of my cousins (who is almost my age and the only child in the family) was not “allowed” to go to Tbilisi for studying, even there was a place in my room in Tbilisi. Now she lives and works in Kutaisi, just 1hour distance from her parents’ house in another small Imeretian town.

Another non-financial explanation could be the fact that some Georgian families (from regions) with few children tend to “force” their offspring to choose universities in the same region in order to be close to parents while studying and even during working after graduation. One of my cousins (who is almost my age and the only child in the family) was not “allowed” to go to Tbilisi for studying, even there was a place in my room in Tbilisi. Now she lives and works in Kutaisi, just 1hour distance from her parents’ house in another small Imeretian town.
Guest - Eric Livny on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 12:06

Your hypothesis, Tatia, could also be tested with individual data, though this time it would be more difficult to get the relevant data (and maybe it will not be available at all). Where are you from? Where did you do your BA?

Your hypothesis, Tatia, could also be tested with individual data, though this time it would be more difficult to get the relevant data (and maybe it will not be available at all). Where are you from? Where did you do your BA?
Eric Livny on Wednesday, 09 December 2015 14:11

Giorgi Kelbakiani and I wrote this piece some time ago, but it lost none of its relevance. Smart kids from Georgia's provinces tend to study at second-rated provincial universities. One may ask what's the problem with that? Well, it is not that Kutaisi State U. is academically much worse than any of Tbilisi-based public universities (they all suck). The problem is that the smartest kids do tend to flock to Tbilisi State U. - not to study, but to socialize, marry, and form networks. Those who are left behind in Kutaisi will probably learn as much (or as little) but will be greatly disadvantaged when it comes to their business and professional careers. Networks matter everywhere, but in a country like Georgia, they matter even more. So, the policy question is how one can promote smart kids from Racha to Tbilisi-based universities. Stipends covering living expenses (in addition to tuition) might be the way to go.

Giorgi Kelbakiani and I wrote this piece some time ago, but it lost none of its relevance. Smart kids from Georgia's provinces tend to study at second-rated provincial universities. One may ask what's the problem with that? Well, it is not that Kutaisi State U. is academically much worse than any of Tbilisi-based public universities (they all suck). The problem is that the smartest kids do tend to flock to Tbilisi State U. - not to study, but to socialize, marry, and form networks. Those who are left behind in Kutaisi will probably learn as much (or as little) but will be greatly disadvantaged when it comes to their business and professional careers. Networks matter everywhere, but in a country like Georgia, they matter even more. So, the policy question is how one can promote smart kids from Racha to Tbilisi-based universities. Stipends covering living expenses (in addition to tuition) might be the way to go.
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