Graduates should be matched to local jobs… just an urban issue?

I just read this article by Times Higher Education: “Graduates should be matched to local jobs says report”. This article refers to the UniverCities report, which looks at how universities can support city growth.  Part of the backdrop to the report is the issue of graduate migration after graduation – some graduates will return to their familial homes and others will be drawn to the bright lights of London, which potentially deprives their university towns and cities of the talent that has been fostered there.

The report makes recommendations under three main themes:

  1. Optimising research and teaching for metro growth.
  2. Promoting graduate retention and utilization.
  3. Enterprising students, graduates and faculty.

Now, these are ideas that interest me, because even though this report focuses on urban growth similar recommendations also appear in rural development literature. So, in the Orkney Population Change Study (2009), commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Orkney Islands Council, recommendations for a sustainable future included supporting ‘partnerships between education establishments and the productive sectors on the islands’ (p.9)  ‘a slight reduction in out-migration of younger age groups’ (p.7) and ‘supporting enterprise’ (p.8). Now these recommendations are not specifically about higher education or graduates, but the similarities with the recommendations in the report are striking.

The difference, I guess, is that for many rural areas historically there has been an export of talent to major cities, especially for higher education. So although for urban areas the migration of students back to their rural ‘home’ regions may be a loss, for the rural areas they move back to they are a positive gain. Indeed, in the Orkney Population Change Study although a ‘slight’ reduction in out-migration is noted as necessary, more critically a 40% increase in in-migrants who are aged 25-34 is identified as important (p.7) So, although as the UniverCities report proposes, retention of graduates might be valuable in urban development, it may be important to consider how this could impact on rural areas who are also seeking to attract young graduates back.




  1. Rosie, really glad you’ve picked this up. I contributed to the report and particularly to the graduate migration area (indeed, it’s my point you quote above when you list the three most likely outcomes for graduates as being return home, then stay close to university, then go to London).

    The point that needs to be stressed is that, yes, graduates are actually, in general, most likely to return to their home domicile to work and that *this is ok* as long as the work is there for them. Unfortunately, this group is also a significant contributer to the group of graduates who struggle to find appropriate work for a degree holder and so we want ideally for them to go where they can both contribute to economic benefit and themselves economically benefit. This does become tricky when you have communities that have the *potential* to benefit from an increased graduate supply but might not necessarily have a great deal to offer them *right now*.

    Personally, I think it’s an important part of the whole view of graduate retention and migration that those regions that will benefit from graduate talent should be able to access it, and in the case of the communities you work with, that will almost always mean those students and graduates with a prior connection to them.

  2. Thanks Charlie, it’s great to hear from you, and I’m really glad you found the blog interesting – I didn’t realise you were involved with the report!

    I also really enjoyed reading your comments – very thought provoking. I totally agree about the importance of choice, and trying to limit the barriers rural (and other) students may face in accessing urban labour markets – in effect avoiding the trap of ‘having to go home’ and making location more of a choice. Although having said that I should say I also think it should be recognised that going home can be a positive choice (for personal and lifestyle reasons) even when job opportunities aren’t perhaps as good as they could be elsewhere.

    I guess a key challenge, as you mention, comes when we think about development issues – because what’s good for a place might not necessarily be good for an individual – and I’m struck by your comment that it can be tricky when communities have the potential to benefit from increased graduate supply but may not have a great deal to offer them right now…. That touches on something I find myself mulling over a great deal too – the chicken-and-egg scenario of regional development: do you attract the human capital first, and then the employers, or the employers and then the human capital (in the form of graduates)…..? I guess you wouldn’t want to attract in-migrants who were looking for ‘graduate jobs’ if you didn’t have any to offer…. So perhaps the key is in attracting lifestyle migrants – those who want to live in an area primarily because of the area and not necessarily for employment reasons – and then that may create the desired pool of human capital that would attract employers?

    Plenty to think about as always…..! I’d really like to hear if you have further thoughts – your report on graduate retention and migration in the West of England was heavily influential in inspiring my research interests, so it’s great to make contact with you 🙂

    1. First up, thanks for the kind words on the West of England report – it was one of the most enjoyable I’ve worked on as I was able to work some ideas out about the way we examine different groups of mobile graduates and it allowed me to get involved in similar work elsewhere. I’m delighted that you found it interesting.

      The chicken-and-egg question you touch on is a crucial challenge to the issue of graduate migration and retention and one I feel is not always well articulated. When I talk to regional economic interests (he says, unverifiably arguing from authority, something I really dislike), this sometimes comes through, but often Poppleton LEP is much more interested in getting graduates to come to the already-thriving Greater Poppleton area where they can boost the Poppleton economy, rather than the outlying areas of Popplewick and Popplechester, where there are fewer graduate opportunities.

      This is rational from the point of view of the LEP and for the graduates – and for the HE sector, who benefit from improved metrics as a consequence. But is it in the wider economic and social interest, if it means Popplewick and Popplechester are being drained of human capital and when building a pool of potential employees may allow a local economic boost there as well? You can argue that the benefits of a boost to Greater Poppleton will spread to other nearby regions – but it can take a while and they may not be certain.

      On the other hand, how reasonable is it to expect graduates to go to places on the promises of possibly, ultimately, having a good job? It is not an easy question to readily answer, especially where the perceived public investment in HE and the very real cost to students makes it even harder to justify their economic underutilisation.

      And what does it mean for, say, Orkney? My gut says that you’re right when you identify lifestyle migrants – at least for areas like Orkney – as a crucial component. Graduates are actually pretty unlikely to go to work in places that they are not originally from or haven’t studied in, so I think the pool you’d be looking at are largely native Orcadians with other incomers another group – indeed, of the small number of graduates at all levels of qualification from last year working in Orkney six months after graduation, the very large majority (79%) were originally from Orkney (and it’s 89% for Shetland).

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