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Too many top UK graduates are flocking to London, leaving other cities short of talent – report

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Cities across the UK are facing a “brain drain” of much-needed talent, as nearly one-quarter of graduates from local universities are heading to London for better job prospects, revealed a report.

The report, published by think tank Centre for Cities on Monday, found that 24.4 percent of new graduates in 2014 and 2015 relocated to the capital within six months after graduating, exceeding the 19 percent of British jobs available there.

The figure is about 13 times more than second place city Manchester.


Image via Centre for Cities

In the report, titled “The Great British Brain Drain: Where Graduates Move and Why”, researchers said that one in four recent university leavers chose to work in London due to the job opportunities and career progression offered there.

The study further highlights the North-South divide, as the UK government struggles to overcome the imbalance of talent flowing to the South, leaving other cities around the country deprived of the highly-skilled workers needed to grow their economies.

The problem not only lies in the volume of graduates, but the quality of them as well – according to the data, London is attracting more than a third (38 percent) of Russell Group graduates with first-class or upper-second class degrees.

Russell Group universities are comprised of 24 of the UK’s top research institutions.

For graduates of Oxford and Cambridge (better known as Oxbridge), the percentage is even higher, with over half (52 percent) moving to London for work after finishing university.


Image via Centre for Cities

Besides attracting graduates, London also has the highest graduate retention rate of any city in the study, with 77 percent of its students staying in the city after finishing their studies, while 74 percent of students who were originally from London but left to study in another city returned to the capital after graduating.

Centre for Cities’ chief executive, Alexandra Jones, said: “The government will not achieve its vision of extending prosperity and growth across the country unless it takes steps to help more cities attract and retain the UK’s top talent,” reported the Guardian.

Southampton, Birmingham, and Manchester saw the highest shares of graduates leaving the cities after graduation, with 86 percent, 76 percent, and 67 percent respectively.


Distribution of where students live, where they study, and where they move to after graduation. Image via Centre for Cities

Though jobs are the most important factor influencing graduate location decisions, researchers found no relationship between graduates moving for work and the wages they were offered in the cities they chose, suggesting that high graduate wages are not the main reason for people moving to big cities, and that other factors are involved.

Jones said that policymakers should draw lessons from these findings.

“Wage subsidies and other specific graduate retention policies will not tackle the root causes of this issue. Instead, the priority for national and local leaders should be strengthening city region economies, and increasing local demand and opportunities for graduates,” she said.

She added that the government should focus on boosting economic growth in cities across the country by investing in large-scale housing and transport projects, as well as reinforcing the devolution deals currently in place for regions such as Greater Manchester to enable them to “grow their economies and to develop and attract talented workers”.

The report said that despite the draw of London for a large share of graduates, all cities – especially those with well-known universities – still see an overall increase in their numbers of new graduates, both from gaining non-native graduates and from locals who decided to study and work where they grew up.

The report also found that many UK cities are reliant on the public sector for graduate-level jobs, and suggested that if such cities hoped to attract and retain more graduates, they would need to implement more private sector-friendly policies to boost the number of jobs in that sector.

Image via Shutterstock

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