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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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.