Refugees and ‘Native Flight’ from Public to Private Schools

Semih Tumen

Economics Letters, Volume 181 (2019), Pages 154-159


This paper exploits the large-scale arrival of Syrian refugees into Turkey after 2012 to estimate the impact of refugees on public-private school choice of natives in Turkey. The analysis is based on province-level school enrollment data covering the period between 2010/11 to 2015/16 academic years, and employs a flexible difference-in-difference approach based on province-year variation in refugee intensity and an instrumental variable strategy to address refugees’ location choices (i.e. refugees may be sorting into regions with better economic opportunities and these regions may also be the ones with stronger public schools). The author finds that Turkish children switch from public to private primary schools in response to increased Syrian-refugee concentration in their province of residence. A ten percentage-point increase in refugee-to-population ratio generates, on average, 0.12 percentage-point increase in private primary school enrollment. The response is slightly larger among males relative to females. This roughly corresponds to one native child switching to private education for every 31.6 refugee children enrolled in public schools—weaker than the typical estimates in the literature. There are several possible reasons for this weaker estimate: Syrian refugees in Turkey generally settle together in segregated neighborhoods and their children go to public schools located around those neighborhoods, so natives have an option to switch to other public schools with much less (or no) refugee students, especially in large cities; cost of private school tuition fees given the relatively fragile labor market conditions in Turkey and high frequency of aggregate shocks; the small number of private schools, mostly located in rich urban neighborhoods; and government efforts to sustain the quality and capacity of public education in response to the refugee in influx, e.g. through language support to refugee children, and the deployment of Syrian teachers to regions with high refugee concentrations to act as voluntary advisers.



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