Graduates abandon coastal and northern towns – IFS

By the time they reach the age of 27, graduates are 10 percentage points more likely to have moved away from the area they grew up in than “otherwise similar non-graduates”, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says

Several major cities in England soak up the lion’s share of young graduates, emptying many parts of the North, and most coastal and rural areas, of their most educated young people, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows.

By the time they reach the age of 27, graduates are 10 percentage points more likely to have moved away from the area they grew up in than “otherwise similar non-graduates”, the report says.

The report by IFS was published for the Department for Education and warns: “Patterns of graduate mobility increase the concentration of skills in cities, where participation in higher education is often already high, thereby increasing geographical inequality.”

Researchers tracked where graduates settle after university using school, university and tax records. The study found more graduates live in London, Leeds, Bristol and Brighton than grow up there: these four cities, more so than any other, manage to attract and retain the largest share of graduates.

Graduates that move statistically derive a financial benefit from doing so, with male and female graduates earning 10% and 4% more than their respective graduate cohorts that do not move. Both male and female graduates that move earn £10,000 more at the age of 27 than non-graduates.

The report also found that gains from moving differ across degree subjects. Law, technology, languages, business and economics graduates that move away from home receive the biggest boost to earnings – particularly those that move to London. Moving to certain areas may be necessary to realise the full financial gain from some degrees.

Graduates from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to move and less likely to move to high wage areas like London, even though their gains from moving appear to be quite high
– Ben Waltmann, IFS

Other university cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, do not gain or lose graduates through migration – this fact, the researchers conclude, means metropoles are not, in every case, significant beneficiaries. The report suggests that high-paying jobs is not the only factor: the cities of Bristol, Leeds, and Brighton have similar average salaries to Manchester and Birmingham but appear more attractive to young graduates.

“In the context of the ‘levelling up’ agenda, it is worth investigating what attributes of cities are attractive to graduates in order to better enable left-behind places to attract and retain skills,” the report suggests.

In fact, it is small northern towns, rural and coastal areas that lose out. The 10 areas with the highest net loss of graduates are Bridlington, Skegness, Bude, Northallerton, Spalding, Grimsby, Bridport, Clacton, Boston and Wisbech. All produce relatively few graduates – and retain even fewer once they reach the age of 27.

Some wealthier areas characterised by high levels of HE participation also experience a substantial net loss – the towns of High Wycombe, Newbury, Tunbridge Wells and Harrogate, for example. “This suggests that the availability of social and cultural amenities also plays a role in young people’s location decisions,” the report posits. These areas may, however, be popular with older graduates – just not those in the late twenties.

The report finds that graduates are significantly more likely to move away from where they grew up than non-graduates – and more likely to move to London or other major cities than non-graduates. This phenomenon risks a growing divide between areas where graduates or non-graduates are statistically more likely to live.

Graduates that are ethnic minorities and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move – and, as a result, the effect of higher education on mobility and earnings is much weaker for these groups, the report notes. Young people from the poorest families are only four percentage points more likely to move if they graduate from university – black and Asian graduates are no more mobile than otherwise similar non-graduates. Graduates from the poorest families are seven percentage points less likely to move to London or one of the big cities than those from the richest.

Ben Waltmann, a senior research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “Graduates from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to move and less likely to move to high wage areas like London, even though their gains from moving appear to be quite high.

“This suggests that reducing barriers to geographical mobility of such graduates could be an important way to improve their labour market outcomes and hence boost social mobility.”

The report is the second significant recent report on the graduate ‘brain drain’ this September. The UPP Foundation and the Bridge Group published a report this month, warning that graduate salaries are a distorting measure of student outcomes, assigning most value to high-paid careers likely to be found in particular sectors and regions of the UK. The report foreword, written by former universities minister Chris Skidmore, warns that a measure like the annual longitudinal educational outcomes (LEO) data “risks encouraging a form of social mobility” that contributes towards a ‘brain drain’ from the regions to London and the home counties.


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