Graduate migration to cities: a major factor in political trends?

Experts debate the UK’s internal graduate ‘brain drain’ and suggest US has more depth in regional employment

November 30, 2016
People on Millennium Bridge, London
Source: Alamy
City limits: unlike the UK, the US has more depth in regional employment

Could the clustering of graduates in cities be “one of the crucial drivers of the current political and economic climate” in the UK?

Graduate movement from the UK’s regions to London was in the headlines recently in coverage of the Centre for Cities’ report, The Great British Brain Drain: Where Graduates Move and Why.

The report says that the capital accounts for about 19 per cent of all jobs. But it found that six months after graduation, of the graduates who moved city, London employed 22 per cent of all working new graduates, and 38 per cent of those working new graduates with a first or upper-second-class degree from a Russell Group university.

“The top-line finding is that there is this brain drain [to London] and it’s even more acute for high achievers,” said Paul Swinney, co-author of the report.

But others think that the picture may be more complex.

Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, authored the organisation’s 2015 report, Loyals, Stayers, Returners and Incomers: Graduate Migration Patterns.

He called the Centre for Cities study “an important contribution to the debate about how people move around the country”.

But Dr Ball said that the Centre for Cities report was “very focused on quite a negative picture of the way that regions retain their talent. It almost bluntly states that, essentially, talented and ambitious graduates leave the North and go to London. I’m not convinced the evidence shows that.”

He argued that the key factor was the movement of graduates to cities within regions. So these cities are “doing, in a smaller way to their own home regions, what London is doing to the rest of the country”, Dr Ball said.

He added: “Manchester’s gain is largely the loss of Bolton, Bury, Wigan, Rochdale, Oldham and so on – the satellite towns of Greater Manchester. Their talented young people are sucked into the more affluent regional centres.

“A lot of the regional agenda and a lot of the presence of higher education institutions [in cities] helps to facilitate that.”

There was a “very delicate balancing act” for regional authorities to strike here, he added.

As a successful example of universities working to retain graduates in their region, Dr Ball singled out the RISE collaboration between Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield City Region and the private sector – which aims to increase graduate employment in small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr Swinney said “getting more people into university from the local area who might well stick around after” might be one option for universities to pursue in helping regions retain graduates. His report also recommends greater investment in regional transport and housing to help achieve this end.

Dr Ball argued that Britain’s centralised nature meant that other nations with mass higher education systems have different patterns of graduate movement.

In the US “you don’t have to go to New York. You can go to a local state centre [of employment]”, he said.

Dr Ball also suggested that Australia and Germany – which, like the US, have federal systems of government – also have greater regional depth in graduate employment.

He also argued that the trend for graduates to become “so urbanised” is “extremely topical”, in light of the focus on areas “left behind” by economic development after the UK’s Brexit vote.

Dr Ball called the movement of graduates to cities “one of the crucial drivers of the current political and economic climate. Our skilled graduate population is concentrated in cities and is becoming more and more concentrated in cities. And so the smaller towns and those areas that are higher education cold spots are getting left behind.”

Banking giant funds university schemes that support regional economies

A partnership between a multinational banking firm and universities is increasing its backing for internships that aim to help small and medium-sized businesses in local communities close to higher education institutions.

At an event hosted by Santander Universities in London on 24 November, Nathan Bostock, Santander’s UK chief executive, announced four new initiatives – including expanded internship and entrepreneurship schemes and a new widening participation fund – backed with extra spending that will bring its total UK universities investment to £11.3 million in 2016-17.

Santander will now provide 3,250 internships for students to gain experience in the SME sector for the academic year 2016-17, with £2.5 million in funding. This is an increase of 750 internships on the original plans, said Mr Bostock at the event. The scheme aims to provide businesses local to universities with access to young talent.

He said that after visiting the University of Exeter to look at its internships in the scheme, “what struck me most of all was that of the 60 internships, 39 of them were with businesses in Exeter, 21 were elsewhere in the country and only six were in London; the brightest minds in the region are not just going to big corporates in the capital, but to ambitious young businesses nearby”.


Print headline: Is graduate flight to cities changing politics?

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