Where do Britain's graduates move to – and why?

If you have a better way of illustrating this story I'd love to hear it. Image: Getty.

The graduate brain drain to London is something that has troubled cities in the North for many years. But as our recent report The Great British Brain Drain shows, there’s more to graduate movements than meets the eye.

It’s not surprising that the brain drain to the capital gets so much attention. London accounted for 19 per cent of all jobs in the UK in 2015, but attracted in 22 per cent of all graduates who chose to move after graduation. This pattern is even more acute for high achievers – of all the graduate movers who achieved a first or upper second class degree from a Russell Group university in 2014 and 2015, 37 per cent were working in London six months after graduation.

Share of all moving graduates by institution and class of degree, 2013-14 to 2014-15. Source: HESA destination of leavers survey.

But while these are headline-grabbing figures, they only tell part of the story. The migration patterns we see are driven by a group of graduates that we call the “bouncers” – people that move to a city to study, but subsequently leave again straight after graduation. These bouncers accounted for almost half of the total student population.

When we set aside this group, we see a different picture. As the chart below shows, most cities actually see a graduate gain: the number of working graduates they attract in (either because they came to study and stayed for work, or moved in after graduation) is greater than the number of graduates who grew up in that city but now work elsewhere (either because they left for university and never came back, or studied in their home town but left after graduating).

The balance between the loss of domiciled students against the gaining of graduates from elsewhere, 2013-14 to 2014-15: click to expand. Source: HESA destination of leavers survey.

In other words, the problem is not that cities outside London do not retain graduates – it is that they do not retain the majority of those students that move to their city to study.

However, what this doesn’t account for is that university cities also grow their own graduates by educating students who grew up in the city, and who then stay in their home town to work. When we factor in this cohort, just two cities – Wigan and Southend – had fewer graduates than students who went to university.

Graduates gained and graduates lost, 2013-14 to 2014-15: click to expand. Source: HESA destination of leavers survey.

The upshot of all this is that, as well as attracting graduates from other places and retaining students who move to a place to study, cities also need to focus on developing more home-grown talent: this will be just as important in increasing the supply of local high-skilled workers.

Paul Swinney is senior economist at the Centre for Cities. This article was originally published on the think tank’s blog.

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Space for 8,000 new homes, most of them affordable... Why it's time to demolish Buckingham Palace

Get a lovely new housing estate, there. Image: Getty.

Scene: a council meeting.

Councillor 1: They say it’s going to cost £369m to repair and bring up to modern standards.

Councillor 2: £369m? Lambeth balked at paying just £14m to repair Cressingham Gardens. They said they’d rather knock it down and start again.

Councillor 1: Then we’re agreed? We knock Buckingham Palace down and build new housing there instead.

Obviously this would never happen. For a start, Buckingham Palace is Grade I listed, but… just imagine. Imagine if refurbishment costs were deemed disproportionate and, like many council estates before it, the palace was marked for “regeneration”.

State events transfer to Kensington Palace, St James’s and Windsor. The Crown Estate is persuaded, as good PR, to sell the land at a nominal fee to City Hall or a housing association. What could we build on roughly 21 hectares of land, within walking distance of transport and green space?

The area’s a conservation zone (Westminster Council’s Royal Parks conservation area, to be exact), so modernist towers are out. Pete Redman, a housing policy and research consultant at TradeRisks, calculates that the site could provide “parks, plazas, offices, cafes and 8,000 new dwellings without overlooking the top floor restaurant of the London Hilton Park Lane”.

Now, the Hilton is 100m tall, and we doubt Westminster’s planning committee would go anywhere near that. To get 8,000 homes, you need a density of 380 u/ha (units per hectare), which is pretty high, but still within the range permitted by City Hall, whose density matrix allows up to 405 u/ha (though they’d be one or two bedroom flats at this density) in an area with good public transport links. We can all agree that Buckingham Palace is excellently connected.

So what could the development look like? Lewisham Gateway is achieving a density of 350u/ha with blocks between eight and 25 storeys. On the other hand, Notting Hill Housing’s Micawber Street development manages the same density with mansion blocks and mews houses, no more than seven storeys high. It’s also a relatively small site, and so doesn’t take into account the impact of streets and public space.

Bermondsey Spa might be a better comparison. That achieves a density of 333u/ha over an area slightly larger than Lewisham Gateway (but still one-tenth of the Buckingham Palace site), with no buildings higher than 10 storeys.

The Buck House project seems perfect for the Create Streets model, which advocates terraced streets over multi-storey buildings. Director Nicholas Boys Smith, while not enthusiastic about bulldozing the palace, cites areas of London with existing high densities that we think of as being idyllic neighbourhoods: Pimlico (about 175u/ha) or Ladbroke Grove (about 230u/ha).


“You can get to very high densities with narrow streets and medium rise buildings,” he says. “Pimlico is four to six storeys, though of course the number of units depends on the size of the homes. The point is to develop a masterplan that sets the parameters of what’s acceptable first – how wide the streets are, types of open space, pedestrian only areas – before you get to the homes.”

Boys Smith goes on to talk about the importance of working collaboratively with the community before embarking on a design. In this scenario, there is no existing community – but it should be possible to identify potential future residents. Remember, in our fantasy the Crown Estate has been guilt-tripped into handing over the land for a song, which means it’s feasible for a housing association to develop the area and keep properties genuinely affordable.

Westminster Council estimates it needs an additional 5,600 social rented homes a year to meet demand. It has a waiting list of 5,500 households in immediate need, and knows of another 20,000 which can’t afford market rents. Even if we accepted a density level similar to Ladbroke Grove, that’s 4,830 homes where Buckingham Palace currently stands. A Bermondsey Spa-style density would generate nearly 7,000 homes.

There’s precedent for affordability, too. To take one example, the Peabody Trust is able to build genuinely affordable homes in part because local authorities give it land. In a Peabody development in Kensington and Chelsea, only 25 per cent of homes were sold on the open market. Similarly, 30 per cent of all L&Q’s new starts in 2016 were for commercial sale.

In other words, this development wouldn’t need to be all luxury flats with a few token affordable homes thrown in.

A kindly soul within City Hall did some rough and ready sums based on the figure of 8,000 homes, and reckoned that perhaps 1,500 would have to be sold to cover demolition and construction costs, which would leave around 80 per cent affordable. And putting the development in the hands of a housing association, financed through sales – at, let’s remember, Mayfair prices – should keep rents based on salaries rather than market rates.

Now, if we can just persuade Historic England to ditch that pesky Grade I listing. After all, the Queen actually prefers Windsor Castle…

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