Regions lose skills as PhDs follow jobs

September 8, 2006

Study examines impact of postdocs' mobility on local economies, says Olga Wojtas

Two fifths of PhD students move out of the geographical region in which they study after finishing their doctorate, a new study has revealed.

It also shows that more than half of all research students now secure employment outside the higher education sector.

The only two regions with a net inflow of PhD graduates are London and the South West, which has a sizeable aerospace industry.

"We only know where they go, not why. We don't know if that's from choice or whether they have to move to get a job," said the report's co-author, Janet Metcalfe, director of the UK GRAD programme. "We don't know the motivation behind the statistics. I think it needs further research."

Despite cross-regional movement, each area of the country produces broadly the same number of PhDs in its universities as are employed in industry and higher education.

UK GRAD, the support body for postgraduates that produced the report, hopes institutions and regional development agencies will use the findings to investigate how PhD graduates could help stimulate local economies.

The report was unveiled this week at the fifth annual UK GRAD conference.

Dr Metcalfe said: "This is the first time anybody has done such an analysis. Nobody has looked at PhD graduates' geographical mobility before." The report, based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows not only that 52 per cent leave higher education, but also that 8 per cent of PhDs move overseas.

Dr Metcalfe added that given the determination to change to a knowledge economy it was disappointing that so little attention had been paid to where PhDs go.

"Although PhD graduates are a small cohort compared with first-degree graduates, RDAs would benefit from engaging with these highly skilled individuals," she said. "They have the potential to make differences in a region."

The report builds on UK GRAD's 2004 report, What Do PhDs Do? . It shows that 57 per cent of those staying in their region work in education, compared with 35 per cent of those who move away. Just over 12 per cent of those who stay work in manufacturing compared with 22 per cent of those who move away.

Overall, 71 per cent of PhD graduates working in education, 65 per cent of those in the health sector and 45 per cent of those in manufacturing stay in the region where they studied.

What Do PhDs Do? - A Regional Analysis by Janet Metcalfe, Keith Morgan and Sara Shinton can be accessed at

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