Measuring Graduate Mobility

A couple of weeks ago HESA published details of their new graduate mobility marker, which provides insights into the geographical mobilities of graduates around the UK, introducing a focus on local authority level data. I am really pleased to see this development, given that the existing evidence we have has typically focused on mobility at regional level, and although this has provided important insights into relative mobilities of graduates, it has been relatively crude. In Scotland, as I pointed out in my PhD thesis, regional analysis is particularly problematic, because Scotland is often treated as a single region. This is problematic because the different educational system, occupational structures, and Higher Education fees landscape in Scotland means that there are significant barriers for some HE students and graduates in mobility between the Scotland and England (see for example Wakeling and Jefferies, 2013; and Bond, Charsley and Grundy, 2008). Treating Scotland as a region, and focusing on inter-regional mobility therefore potentially under-reports relative mobilities in Scotland, and, I would argue, potentially skews analysis of data at UK level too. The new data set offers a much more nuanced perspective.

Where previous research has categorised graduate mobilities in four categories: stayers, loyals, returners and incomers, the new categorisation splits the loyal category and the returner category into two sub-categories. For Loyal students (those who stay in the same region for study and for employment) the two sub categories are: those who stay in the same region for study and employment, but are employed in a different local authority (LA), and those who stay in the same region and the same LA for employment. Similarly with ‘returner’ students, those who return to their region after study are split into those who return to their region and the same LA and those who return to their region but work in a different LA.

Now, I have a few questions about the data set – for example “regional” level analysis of mobilities for Higher Education seem to remain. This means that I suspect there are still issues for the Scottish data set – for example only a tiny proportion of Scottish students are shown to be mobile for the purposes of Higher Education, but relative mobility is likely to be under-reported given that few Scottish students will study in England, but many will study in different towns and cities in Scotland. I also suspect that the use of local authority location (of a graduate’s employer) might be relatively crude as a marker of mobility – for example in some urban areas, multiple Local Authorities might exist in relatively close proximity, and it would be quite possible to live in one, and work in another. I wonder how this is being handled in the data? Potentially for example, it seems that a graduate could return to live with their parents in the same local authority area, but commute to work in a different local authority, and this would appear as a returner to the region (but not the local authority).

Participants in my PhD often described looking for work in locations that were ‘close enough’ to home to allow travel back to see friends and family. Photo by Dom J on

Despite these questions or limitations in the data set, I think the data shows some really important things, mostly that graduate mobility is complex. So, for example from the published information the data shows that “63% of…‘returners’ are employed in a different local/unitary authority to the one they were living in prior to commencing their course.” And that “60% of graduates who lived (prior to starting their course), studied and now work in the same region (sometimes referred to as ‘loyals’) were found to be employed in a different local/unitary authority to the one they resided in before beginning their study”. That is graduates who stay in, or return to, their home regions are more likely to be working in a different local authority than the one they were based in prior to their studies. And further, that those who return and work in a “different local/unitary authority when compared with their initial location of domicile exhibit higher design/nature of work scores than those who return to the same local/unitary authority”. This opens up questions of relatively localised mobilities – for example people who want to remain in or return to a region, but undertake intraregional mobility to access employment that suits them better. For me, (personally) this makes some sense – for example I moved back to my home town after graduating from university, but after temporary work in that home town, I secured work that was more aligned to my professional interests in a neighbouring town, but which I could still commute to (I could drive by this time). In my PhD research with students from Orkney and Shetland I also found that graduates talked about proximity to friends and family being important – that is they might seek work in another part of Scotland than the islands, but would often want to be within Scotland, or in certain parts of Scotland in order to be close enough to the islands, and to be able to go home on a regular basis. Again here, relatively localised intra-regional mobilities are important.

I think the main contribution of this new statistical measure is that it broadens concepts of graduate mobility beyond binary notions of mobility / immobility, and recognises that there are different forms of mobility that may be enacted at different scales. This connects with academic work which has, for example, highlighted different forms of mobility in Higher Education (not just moving away for university, but the experience of commuter students for example), and research into mobility more generally that has argued for a breaking down of binaries of stayers / leavers. Thinking at an intra-regional level opens up greater complexity in terms of graduate mobility decisions, and also therefore their potential relationship to graduate employment destinations, something that as readers of this blog will know is a significant interest of mine…. It will be great to see what future research into mobility and graduate employment will come out of this new data set.


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