Graduate ‘brain drain’ – is regional economic growth the solution?

college graduates groupBy Heather Cameron

With the economic performance of cities and regions increasingly reliant on the skills of their workforce, the longstanding issue of graduate ‘brain drain’ to London and the south is something that needs to be addressed.

Although students attend many of the universities spread across the country, a significant number of graduates flock towards the capital at the end of their studies. According to a recent report from Centre for Cities, this deprives other cities of skilled workers and essentially damages the overall economy.

The evidence

A quarter of all new graduates in 2014 and 2015 were found to have moved to work in London within the six months of finishing their degree. And the highest achievers make up a significant proportion. While London accounts for around 19% of all jobs, of the graduates that moved city six months after graduation London employed 22% of all working new graduates, and 38% of those with a first or upper second class degree from a Russell Group university.

Although most cities experience an overall graduate gain, cities outside London don’t retain the majority of students that move to their city to study – the ‘bouncers’ that drive the brain drain overall, overshadowing any gain:

  • Manchester lost 67% of these students upon graduation;
  • Birmingham lost 76%; and
  • Southampton lost 86%.

Other figures show that 310,000 graduates have left the north in the past decade, contributing to a net average deficit of 7,500 highly qualified workers leaving annually, or 75,500 over a decade.

Northern regions have to some extent offset the effect of local brain drain by attracting enough highly qualified foreign workers to fill the gap. But with reductions in immigration, these regions could be left lacking.

Given the UK’s current position regarding the EU, concerns have also been raised over whether Britain faces a further brain drain of academics to Europe, following Brexit. A recent survey highlighted that 42% of academics said they are more likely to consider leaving Britain after the vote to leave.

Why?

While it may seem plausible to assume that higher salaries are the reason for this brain drain, it appears that the main pull for graduates is the availability of jobs and career progression, which London’s vast labour market offers.

However, as recent research from Homes for the North has identified, these are not the only reasons. It highlights the importance of additional non-work drivers of graduate location decisions, including the cost and quality of housing, quality of local amenities and the prospect of home ownership.

Of the graduates polled, 80% said the quality of housing was important, while more than 60% said the cost of housing was important. The quality of green spaces and local amenities was also deemed important by over 60% of graduates.

What can be done to redress the balance?

There have been numerous graduate retention initiatives at the local and regional level aimed at tackling the uneven distribution of graduates, such as graduate wage subsidies and local graduate job matching.  But it seems little has improved. The Centre for Cities research argues that these alone will not tackle the root cause of the graduate brain drain.

It suggests that cities themselves have a vital role to play in ensuring the local job market offers an appropriate number of graduate job opportunities that will allow them to both retain graduates and attract graduates from elsewhere. Policy should therefore broaden its focus to improve local economies by investing in transport, housing and enterprise, rather than focusing solely on graduate retention and attraction policies.

The chief executive of the Centre for Cities commented that the government’s new economic and industrial strategy should be used to strengthen existing devolution deals for city-regions such as Greater Manchester, extending their scope to grow.

Indeed, the industrial strategy green paper, published in January, clearly places emphasis on addressing the economic imbalances across the UK through a number of measures, such as working with local areas to close the skills gap, including new schemes to support the retention and attraction of graduates. However, the strategy has been criticised for providing little clarity on how regional rebalancing and sectoral deals will work in practice.

Final thoughts

While it appears clear that cities outside London need to improve their graduate offer with better job prospects, the evidence on graduate migration suggests it is more complex than this.

As has been argued, the provision of good quality affordable housing could play a role alongside high-skilled job creation and opportunities. With the cost of living in London so expensive, this would make sense, particularly as the average graduate salary in London is not that much higher than the average across other UK cities.


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Knowledge Insider: Creating new cultures and successfully using evidence in planning, with Waheed Nazir, Birmingham City Council

Waheed nazir blogLocal authorities face many challenges when it comes to creating successful places. In this Q&A I speak to Waheed Nazir, Director of Planning and Regeneration at Birmingham City Council. I find out how his infectious enthusiasm for shaping and leading a skilled planning team has impacted on research and evidence.

Waheed, can you describe the situation and challenges you faced leading regeneration activity in Birmingham?

There was incredible talent but a lot of silo working. Even though we had a whole planning department, the functions were all separate, including housing and economic development – all well intended and trying to achieve things for Birmingham, but there wasn’t a bigger picture of what we were trying to create.

Taking over a department just as we were entering into recession, with a 40% cost reduction target and a requirement for outsourcing, was a challenge, so rather than tackle them separately I brought all those areas together. I used those drivers to develop a new approach. I wanted to create a working environment based on common sense and the main objectives were:

1. Breaking down barriers
2. Achieve savings, due to reducing the number of managers
3. Develop my staff and utilise their skills at all levels.

I needed strategic planners who understand and appreciate the local level market, and I wanted all professions, like planning control, involved in doing the policy. Applying real life knowledge and experience, and using the strength of the different disciplines to develop real talent.

By doing this, although we had a 40% budget reduction, overall performance has gone the other way, because individual performance has improved so much. Staff who have left since, have gone on to do really well elsewhere as lead planners, and that’s my real achievement, that the plan put in place created successful staff.

Although resources were reducing, our capacity increased, because from a regeneration perspective, in recession you aren’t firefighting with developers. As development activity slows, it’s important to use that time efficiently, to put in place the strategic documents and the structure you need for when activity returns. It’s a time to reskill staff and to invest in them, so all documents were written in-house. I developed a new ethos and culture, and gave them the documents to own and develop – this is the biggest learning experience.

In 2011/12 I concentrated on organisational structure, roles and new direction – which focused on delivery. I wanted us to create a model of how we will deliver the big city plan which everyone bought into and understood. We worked extensively with government departments to take forward funding tools like EZ [enterprise zones], which now in place gives us funding to support infrastructure up to £1billion and we have already committed £275m.

Population growth was the other big challenge facing the region; forecasts have changed and keep being revised up, the latest increasing by 150,000. As a result we need to do as much housing development as we can. I was not the biggest fan of the RSS (Regional Spatial Strategy) but it did provide a means of allocating land for housing, which was lost on a more strategic basis.

What were the key tasks essential to creating your success?

  • Vision is absolutely critical to what we are trying to achieve. Being able to articulate what you are trying to achieve is vital to getting everyone on board.
  • Leadership – you have to be willing to make very difficult decisions, which can be unpopular. Strong leadership is key to delivery. People leave because of bad processes and lack of leadership, so I encourage leadership across the team – if the policy or process is wrong then change it and replace it, and people administering it are often the ones best placed to see this.
  • The right structure to deliver the vision. Making sure you have the right range of skills and different types of planner, with different perspectives and approaches, and with the right approach to challenging. Pick people who are better than you to complement your strengths. I developed our own graduate programme to grow our own high quality staff with these qualities.
  • Focus on who the customer is, and what the process they have to deal with is actually doing. For instance, ‘if I am selling my house and can’t find my application’ – we scraped the charging fee as it’s easy to do, not labour intensive and really helps the customer out for very little effort. The places we change and the people we service are the important thing.
  • Never thinking things are impossible. Forget the process, forget the funding, what are we trying to achieve and how do we do it? Keep the customer at the heart at it all.

What did you put in place and what actions did you take?

I changed the department structure and developed the attitude of always thinking “it’s never finished”. I developed the approach of looking to other places – the best research is in other places, UK and globally, always looking for both the good and bad. I established working with the private sector, embracing the ideas of private equity. The first 2 years was about getting the house in order, and the 3rd and 4th year are about working with the private sector. It’s about building mutual respect, and giving them confidence to invest in Birmingham. Developing a two way process so they get a perspective on our roles and we get a better perspective on theirs.

I also run the Birmingham Housing Municipal Trust, so we build housing and know what it takes to build it. This helps you appreciate the challenges the private sector is facing. It’s not rocket science, but it is about knowing the market, and being able to be confident about getting a fair deal for the city and also knowing if developers can’t deliver, I can help them.

As a housing development company, we were struggling with finding the right sites. It’s a big job to work out where the sites are, but for the market outside it’s even more difficult, without the local knowledge. So we developed a prospectus for sites, including constraints, sites, services etc and on the back of this, helped bring about 2000 homes forward. It was easy to bring together, helps developers with research and introduction fees, and they can easily spot the sites and who to contact.

Other benefits have been created which we didn’t expect by working closely with developers. If they can see the purpose, such as industrial land being brought forward, they are willing to pay more attention to section 106 and provide employment or apprenticeships because of good working relationships.

How can policy makers/practitioners benefit from developing their knowledge and use of evidence?

The type of evidence we use can be very different depending on the activity – the local plan is very different to the big city plan. For a local plan you need scale of projections and development opportunities, technical evidence on transport etc.

Although I always like work to be carried out internally to grow and retain knowledge, sometimes it is necessary to commission research externally, to be independent, check our understanding, and refresh it. Market evidence and financial modelling of impact, alongside economic modelling of the benefits are vital, but as planners we don’t articulate this very well – it starts and stops with place, but actually its long term, structural and widespread change that we need.

I don’t bring consultants in to just take intelligence from staff – we use them for new things and to fill gaps in my own staff’s knowledge and ensure knowledge is transferred. I like to liberate staff, show them they can do it, that they have the talent and energy to make change happen – that’s important and personal knowledge enables that to happen.

Planners need to make sure there is a strong evidence base to look at the overall locality, creating localised solutions, using projections and indicators, i.e. rents data or government locations. Evidence needs to balance with vision. It’s about being brave and ambitious about the art of the possible.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in 5 years’ time?

The biggest change will be building modelling into the evidence base, such as economic modelling to test impact, capacity, and income. Modelling the impact of new policies and what they actually do, such as the new homes bonus. We will continue to do traditional evidence work, but increasing the cross-policy integration and impact analysis of issues, such as climate change or flooding, using better data, which all has to be part of the impact measurement.

What are the mistakes people make when it comes to developing evidence, things you which you really need to avoid?

Understanding the quality of what’s out there – knowing how to ask the right question is how you get the right answer. It’s the first, and most important, stage. This means getting the brief right, otherwise you’re in the situation of ‘that’s what you have commissioned’ so can’t change it easily.

When you are commissioning, build in flexibility, the ability to change the work to reflect the changing outputs of the research and the development of the findings and the new questions it raises. You need scope to look at projections which aren’t slavish to past trends, which can reflect the vision you are trying to create, not just tell you about the current state of play. These days all local authorities have lost the evidence base teams they used to have so building that skill set through the whole team is vital.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

Take graduates and train them, round their experience in all the areas, including the private sector – develop the future of the profession by creating good planners.

Surround yourself with people who are better than you, their collective strength reflects well on you and it creates the best results for the place.

Be Bold! Fortune favours the brave and the bold, we have a big responsibility and we have to be brave for the places we look after.


 

This article is one of a series looking at how evidence is used in practice. Read our interviews with our previous ‘Knowledge Insiders’ …

Graduating into a brighter future?

Image from Flickr user Luftphilla, licensed under Creative Commons

by Stacey Dingwall

Post-recession, the employment situation for UK graduates has not been great. Following the economic crash, headlines and statistical releases alike screamed about how bad it was out there for the recently graduated. Graduates were portrayed as either unemployed or underemployed, i.e. forced to accept roles for which their qualifications were not required or unpaid internships. With the end of the recession however, has the situation improved?

The graduate job recession

In 2010, the number of graduates in full-time work, three months post-graduation was 51% – its second-lowest level since 2003 (57%). And in 2009 The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) was reporting that the number of graduate vacancies being advertised had fallen by up to a quarter since before the recession.

With record numbers of graduates now competing for each vacancy, and competing not only with their own graduating class but also with earlier cohorts, it could have been concluded that the era of the traditional graduate employment route was on its way out.

A return to form?

According to recent figures, however, things are looking up. Previewing the second 2015 update of its Graduate Recruitment survey, AGR describes the current graduate market as ‘buoyant’, and notes that the findings of the previous survey indicated an 11.9% increase in graduate vacancies on the previous year. These findings are backed up by the September 2014 edition of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit’s (HESCU’s) What do graduates do, which described the employment prospects for 2012/13 graduates as ‘dramatically improved’ compared to those of their immediate predecessors, with their unemployment rate six months after graduating down at 7.3% from the previous year’s 8.5%.

Additionally, the most recent release of the High Fliers graduate recruitment study suggests that those graduating in 2015 are doing so into the “most attractive graduate market in a decade”, and predicts 8% more vacancies than the previous year. It also notes that the class of 2015 are the first to graduate having paid tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year; this has led to the end of the image of students merely partying their way through their time at university, with the majority now focused on securing a promising career for themselves from as early as first year.

The new face of the graduate job

The prospect of graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt appears to be proving quite the motivation for today’s students. Rather than waiting until their final year to seek out internships and careers advice, High Fliers reports that firms are now taking on first year undergraduates in placement roles. Building up a relationship with a desired employer as early as possible is now the key way of securing a job post-graduation according to the report, with those with little or no work experience described as having “no chance” of receiving the offer of a place on a firm’s graduate programme.

AGR’s chief executive Stephen Isherwood has also pointed towards this trend, suggesting that graduate recruitment is being replaced with ‘student recruitment’, as those leaving university face competition from those still at university who have already been hired by employers for apprenticeships or have succeeded in finding an employer to sponsor them through the rest of their studies.

Another issue, as highlighted by Gerbrand Tholen, is the changing definition of what constitutes a graduate job. He notes that the previous understanding of what made a graduate occupation (those that combined expertise, strategic and managerial skills and interactive skills) has been abandoned in favour of defining the extent to which the role utilises specialist, orchestration or communication expertise.

This has led to a blurring between the lines of graduate and non-graduate roles, and also issues with compiling official statistics on the number of graduates employed in each arena. In 2014, the director of High Fliers, Martin Birchall, criticised the Office for National Statistics for not updating their definition of a graduate job since 2002, after they released data which suggested that 47% of recent graduates were not working in jobs which required a higher education qualification. This issue is further compounded by the issue of ‘over-education’ and ‘under-employment’, and the question of whether employers have been able to benefit from a more highly skilled workforce.

The graduate class problem

An important thing to keep in mind is that reporting on graduate labour market trends tends to focus primarily on the most general of findings – considering graduates as a homogenous group. This is particularly true in terms of the social backgrounds of graduates: research has found, and is continuing to find, significant differences in the labour market experience for graduates from working class backgrounds and their more socially privileged backgrounds. Until this much wider issue of a lack of social mobility within the graduate labour market can be addressed, it is perhaps too early to describe the situation as ‘buoyant’ – at least for everyone.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on education and employment trends; to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered in this blog *

‘Graduate jobs’ in OECD countries: development and analysis of a modern skills-based indicator (LLAKES research paper 53)

What do graduates do? Employment review, IN Graduate Market Trends, Autumn 2014, pp12-14

Graduates’ experiences of non-graduate jobs: stop gaps, stepping stones, or dead ends?, IN Graduate Market Trends, Summer 2014, pp6-8

‘You have to be well spoken: students’ views on employability within the graduate labour market, IN Journal of Education and Work, Vol 27 No 2 Apr 2014, pp179-198

The gap between the proportion of young graduates from professional backgrounds who go on to a “graduate job” six months after graduating and young graduates from non-professional background

We need to talk about graduates: the changing nature of the UK graduate labour market

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Higher education – widening access or widening inequality?

college graduates groupBy Heather Cameron

While the government maintains its commitment to widening participation to higher education, newly published government statistics suggest that the gap between private and state pupils is actually widening.

Widening gap

The statistics show that 85% of school-leavers from English private schools who turned 19 in 2012-13 were in higher education, compared to 66% of students from state schools – a gap of 19 percentage points, which is six points wider than it was in 2008-09.

A new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has similarly highlighted the gap between the most and least advantaged groups.

Professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, Simon Marginson, recently argued that equality of opportunity in higher education is “further off than ever”, despite participation rates around the world being at a record high. Marginson suggests that universities should not be left responsible for social mobility as other factors are also at play.

Indeed, a new report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission indicates that the wealthiest families are using their wealth and status to ‘hoard opportunities’ for their children with less academic ability. It argued that this is creating a ‘glass floor’, protecting some children from downward social mobility.

Budget impact

With the recent budget reforms, it would seem that addressing the inequality issue will be far from easy.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the loss of maintenance grants, which are to be replaced with loans, will increase the average debt incurred for the poorest 40% of students to over £50,000. And debt will be highest among those from the lowest-income families.

If given the go ahead, the decision to freeze the repayment threshold for student loans at £21,000 is estimated to increase loan repayments for graduates, hitting middle-income graduates hardest.

In addition to this, the proposal to allow ‘high teaching quality’ institutions to raise tuition fees is predicted to increase the cost to government of teaching undergraduates as not all loans are estimated to be repaid in full.

This could also impact on students from poorer backgrounds applying to such institutions. While it has been acknowledged that the increase in fees in 2012 didn’t result in a reduction in participation among students from poorer backgrounds, it does seem to have had an impact on the choices these students make.

The IFS suggests that if the proposed changes in the budget are all introduced, the likelihood of a negative impact on higher education participation is stronger, while there will be little improvement in government finances in the long-term.

So what can be done?

There are examples of good practice across schools, colleges and universities where they have engaged in activities designed to raise aspirations and encourage young people from disadvantaged areas to access higher education. Such activities include outreach work, early intervention, quality careers advice, summer schools and focused mentoring.

Indeed, intergenerational mentoring has recently been highlighted as beneficial for raising attainment among socially disadvantaged young people and improving their access to higher education.

A mentoring project conducted in Scotland aimed to support S5 and S6 pupils taking their highers and considering going on to higher education. The programme aimed to help young people in their studies, help them navigate the higher education landscape, support them through the application process and discuss opportunities open to them. The results indicate that this model of mentoring presents an affordable opportunity for intervening to support widening access to higher education.

However, as HEFCE has indicated, despite isolated work in individual institutions that is undoubtedly having a positive impact, it is fragmented and not well evidenced.

HEFCE therefore recommends a joined up sector wide response to ensure that all students can truly fulfil their potential regardless of their background.


Idox supports universities and students in their bid for funding via a dedicated suite of funding solutions including GRANTfinder 4 Education and Open 4 Learning. For further information, please contact our Grants team here.

Further reading

Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 (House of Commons Library briefing no 07258) (2015, House of Commons Library)

College-based degrees ‘reflect inequality’, IN Times Educational Supplement, No 5154 10 Jul 2015

Widening participation to higher education of under-represented groups in Scotland: the challenges of using performance indicators (Working paper 1) (2014, Economic and Social Research Council)

Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (2014, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission)

Breaking the cycle of disadvantage: early childhood interventions and progression to higher education in Europe (2014, RAND Europe)

Limited access (widening university access), IN Holyrood, No 316 14 Apr 2014, pp50-51

School and college-level strategies to raise aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education investigation (Research report no 296) (2014, Department for Education)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Careering into the future

The New Year typically provokes reflection in people, particularly in areas of their lives such as relationships (lawyers report seeing a significant increase in enquiries about divorce at the start of January) and employment. On the 5th of January, the day that most of the country returned to work after the festive break, Scottish recruitment website s1jobs.com went down for a period due to the volume of traffic they were receiving, as people considered their options for change on what was dubbed ‘the most depressing day of the year’.

This quest for change looks set to continue throughout the year, rather than fall by the wayside at the end of the month along with the rest of people’s New Year resolutions. As reported by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD), a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) found that over a third (37%) of respondents are planning to leave their current job this year, a significant increase on the 19% who expressed the same intention a year earlier.

For those looking to make a complete career change, research published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) at the end of 2014 may make interesting reading.

Careers of the Future presents a list of jobs which, it is suggested, will be crucial for the UK job market over the next decade. The 40 roles were identified through an analysis of the UK jobs market, and based on the following indicators:

  • Pay: how much do people earn on average in the job?
  • Job opportunities: how much is the job expected to grow in terms of the number of people employed, and which jobs have the greatest recruitment demand?
  • Business need: which jobs do employers say are difficult to fill because of lack of candidates with the right skills and experience?

The report groups the identified ‘key’ roles for the future according to the following sectors: agriculture; business and finance; construction; education; health and care; information technology; manufacturing, installation and maintenance; protective services; science, engineering and technology; and transport and logistics. From these, 12 jobs are identified are as being those that present people, particularly young people, with a good mix of opportunity, reward and long-term potential:

  • Care worker
  • Construction project manager
  • Electrician
  • Farmer
  • IT business analyst
  • Mechanical engineer
  • Nurse
  • Police officer
  • Programme and software development professional
  • Sales account manager/business development manager
  • Secondary school teacher
  • Train and tram driver.

There are no real surprises on this list; more care workers and nurses are needed to reduce the demand placed on current staff by an increasingly ageing population, while the advent of ‘big data’ and apps has made software development “one of the top five most in demand jobs globally”.

The importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills, something we have looked at on the blog previously, is also in evidence on the list. Engineers and electricians are part of a STEM workforce that, while identified as being ‘critical’ to the future of the UK economy, is currently facing a shortfall of around 400,000 graduates annually.

One surprising omission from the list may be identified: lawyer. While shortfalls of new students have been reported in the news for a number of the roles included on the list, concerns over the number of students undertaking law degrees haven’t been raised since 2011. Although the majority of its predictions for what 2015 would look like were wrong (the world is, sadly, still waiting for hoverboards and food rehydrators), Back to the Future Part II did predict the abolition of lawyers by this year. While this is obviously also wide of the mark, it’s certainly interesting to see that law isn’t deemed a key future profession – especially as it is one of the professions (alongside medicine – another omission from the list) that parents would traditionally encourage their children to aspire to join.

Despite the absence of lawyers and doctors on the list, the inclusion of nurses, farmers and secondary school teachers on this forward-looking list suggests that the future may be somewhat more traditional and less radical than the predictions of film-makers 30 years ago!


Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on careers, employment and skills needs. Some further recent reading on the topic includes:

Engineering and technology: skills and demand in industry – annual survey 2014

The extent and cyclicality of career changes: evidence for the UK

Remember the young ones: improving career opportunities for Britain’s young people

The impact of economic perceptions on work-related decisions, IN Journal of Career Assessment, Vol 22 No 2 May 2014

Better quality jobs (The CLES 10)

N.B. Abstracts and access to journal articles are only available to members.

Building STEM skills in the UK

Halten

The latest briefing from the Knowledge Exchange focuses on the provision of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills in the UK. You can download the briefing for free from the Knowledge Exchange home page.

Despite indications that increased levels of skills acquisition in STEM fields is critical to the future of the UK economy, surveys of employers frequently reveal issues with the recruitment of employees with appropriate skills. Continue reading