Graduate migration – who stayed and who left in 2015

This is an unabridged version of my piece on graduate migration that appeared in the most recent edition of Graduate Market Trends.

This article revisits previous work on graduate migration to look at the populations who work in each region in some depth, and to look at the employment of different groups of graduates.

All data comes from the HESA Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) 2013/14 and looks at graduates six months after they graduated.

The graduate populations.

In order to get a detailed view of the propensities of different groups of higher education leavers to move around the country, we split them into four groups depending on where they were domiciled before entering university and where they studied. The four groups are Loyals, Returners, Stayers and Leavers.

1.   Regional Loyals

These are graduates who are domiciled in a region, went to study in the region, and remained to work in that region. Nearly half of employed graduates (46%) from 2013/4 working in the UK six months after graduating fell into this category – not a significant change from before the recession. Loyals tend to be slightly older and more likely to be women. They were more likely to be from a background with lower participation in higher education (HE), to have a job in education or health, and to go to work for an organisation that had already employed them after graduation.

2.   Regional Returners

These are graduates domiciled in a region, who go elsewhere to study, and then return to their home region to work.  A quarter (25%) and 40% of graduates working in the East of England were from this group. They were the most likely group to be in non-professional employment after six months (except in London, where it is the Loyals) – although only the Incomers were more likely to be from affluent backgrounds – the most likely to get their job through personal contacts and the most likely to state that they had taken their job to gain experience.

3.   Regional Stayers

These are graduates who travel away from their home region to study, and then stay in that study region to work. 12% of working graduates were in this category. Almost all stayers studied full time, they were the least likely to be over 25 on graduation, and they were the most likely group to be working in the arts or media and much the most likely to have used their careers service to have found their job.

4.   Regional Incomers

These are graduates who go to work in a region in which they neither studied nor were domiciled, and made up 18% of the population of employed graduates from 2013/4. They are from backgrounds of greater participation in higher education than the other groups, the least likely to be in non-graduate employment (one in six were in business and finance roles), the most likely to use social media or recruitment agencies to get their job and the most likely to state they had exactly the job that they wanted. 44% of all 2013/14  Incomers were working in London six months after graduation.

Basic graduate migration patterns.

Figure One gives a breakdown of the individual regions of the UK by the migration groups that work in them.

leavers etc
Figure One: Employment of 2013/14 first degree graduates in the regions of the UK by employment group

As we move further from London, more graduates remain in the Loyals group, and fewer become Incomers. The strength of the labour market in London is undoubtedly a factor, but there could be effects from family background as 29% of graduates from the family background of highest participation in higher education work in London – they are overrepresented in the capital’s labour market. The proportion of Stayers and Returners in each region may be more representative at this level of the balance between the local population of attendees of higher education, and the local student population. The East if England demonstrates this – there are rather more HE students who were originally domiciled in the region than study there, and so the region sees many returnees after graduation.

To get a more general view of employment, we examine the occupational groups (drawn from ‘What Do Graduates Do?’) that each migrant group is employed in after graduation.

Loyals Stayers Returners Incomers
 Managers 3.9% 4.2% 4.1% 3.9%
 Health Professionals 17.4% 15.6% 9.2% 15.2%
 Education Professionals 7.6% 5.2% 5.7% 3.6%
 Legal, social and welfare professionals 6.3% 4.2% 4.5% 3.0%
 Science Professionals 0.9% 1.5% 0.9% 1.6%
 Engineering and Building Professionals 3.8% 3.9% 3.3% 8.1%
 Information Technology Professionals 4.0% 4.1% 3.2% 5.6%
 Business, HR and Finance Professionals 7.0% 9.8% 9.9% 16.3%
 Marketing, PR and sales professionals 4.8% 9.1% 8.0% 12.2%
 Arts, Design and Media Professionals 4.5% 8.7% 5.8% 7.9%
 Other Professionals, Associate Professionals and Technicians 4.7% 5.6% 5.7% 6.4%
 Childcare, Health and Education occupations 6.7% 3.4% 7.0% 2.5%
 Clerical, secretarial and numerical clerks 7.4% 6.8% 9.9% 4.9%
 Retail, Catering, Waiting and Bar staff 14.6% 12.7% 16.2% 5.1%
 Other occupations 6.2% 5.0% 6.6% 3.5%
 Unknown occupations 0.1% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2%
 Table One: Types of work of graduate migration groups

Incomers are significantly more likely than other graduates to be in engineering, IT, business and marketing roles, whilst Loyals are more likely to enter public sector jobs in health, education and social care.

Stayers, who are often motivated by trying to find work in a specific location but who are, nevertheless, less willing to work in non-graduate employment, are quite well-represented in most employment groups, and particularly in the arts, design and media. The data suggests that many Returners come home as they have been unable to secure work elsewhere and consequently are rather more likely to be in secretarial jobs, retail and other less-paid non-graduate roles. This group are very unlikely to use university careers services to find work and this data suggests that they may benefit from support when they return home.

The recent findings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) on graduate earnings, and in particular in the warning that the authors make about the effects on local labour markets on earnings by institution, should spark more efforts in understanding the complexities of local graduate labour markets and the factors that attract graduates to regions. This work on migration may help to make some of the questions a little clearer as we try to understand how and why graduates move around the country. Many regional economic bodies have targets for graduate retention – often of those graduates who have studied locally. As we get a greater understanding of how existing ties to local areas can influence a propensity to work in them, we can get a clearer picture of what reasonable graduate retention targets might look like, and an idea of which roles an area might be importing talent from elsewhere in order to fill.


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