David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

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The government’s “levelling up” agenda has clearly sparked a renewed interest in the idea of the impact of universities and university graduates on their local communities.

The UPP foundation and the Bridge Group had a go earlier this week, drawing on HESA data and focusing on the wider graduate experience. Today brings an intervention (London Calling? Higher education, geographical mobility, and early career earnings) from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on behalf of DfE, based around the now traditional custom split of LEO administrative data.

Remote control

As we’ll see, the IFS is much more focused on the traditional indicators of salary and skilled employment – and as such focuses much more on graduate benefits than local ones. IFS talks about the need to make it easier for all students to be geographically mobile, but this weeks other report calls for more support in helping graduates stay local – I asked the Bridge Group about this:

Both reports point to the role of higher education in exacerbating regional inequalities and the lower mobility of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds (to which we add mature students). But whereas the IFS report suggests reducing barriers to geographic immobility, the Bridge Group report advocates support from government in increasing graduate opportunities across the regions and support from universities in facilitating the progression of graduates to local employment. This holistic approach would better support the levelling-up agenda.

It’s one of many occasions where the desires of individual graduates to improve their lot are at odds with the wider good afforded to the places graduates come from and study. A tension, frankly, that underpins the rift at the heart of the “levelling up” agenda.

Career opportunities

IFS finds that, by age 27, 40 per cent graduates have moved away from the area they grew up, compared to 20 per cent of non-graduates. There is, as has previously been indicated, a regional salary effect and regional skilled jobs effect – graduates are likely to leave, for example, the north east of England for “better” jobs (better paying, more “graduate”) in London.

Though ethnic minority graduates are less likely to move (there is no difference between graduates and non-graduates in these groups) the report notes the well-documented issue with the representation of such graduates in LEO data. And there is an unsurprising subject difference – law, technology, languages, business, and economics graduates tend to see higher salary returns by age 27 if they move.

Gender isn’t a factor, but a less disadvantaged background makes it less likely that a graduate will be living in an area different to the one they grew up in – with the most disadvantaged graduates looking very similar to their non graduate peers. However, controlling for all other characteristics makes graduates just 10 percentage points more likely to move – perhaps a surprise to many.

I’m so bored with the ARU

Figure 8 is a fascinating plot – showing selectivity (as shown in average graduate GCSE score) against the impact of provider choice on geographic mobility with Anglia Ruskin University as a base comparator. It’s an odd couple of choices, but it is a glimpse at the kind of data that should be available more routinely.

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I’ve used my proposed groupings to cluster providers, please see the consultation for more details.

I don’t want to go to where the rich are going

In the main, graduates move to get good jobs – and larger cities offer better salaries and better career prospects. Figure 13 shows average pay in each travel to work area (TTWA – basically a commuter catchment area) against the change in each area’s graduate share – the share of young people from the area that get degrees minus the share of young people who end up in the area with degrees. If that last one is hard to get a handle on (it was for me) think of it like this: a negative value means an area is a net importer of graduates, a positive value makes it a net exporter.

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As you can see, graduates tend to head for the city (and also, mysteriously, Falmouth). IFS points us to a few salary counter examples – Newbury, High Wycome, and Whitehaven lose graduates overall despite having high salary levels.

But what is clear is that graduates move away from areas with low salaries. And they don’t move away from cities – Figure 14 lets us see that.

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And figure 20 puts the two into perspective. Of course, low salary areas are more likely to be deprived areas, and young people from deprived areas tend not to go to university, and tend not to be as mobile as graduates.

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Lost in the higher education market

What’s coming through here for me is more evidence that having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area – be they originally from there or from elsewhere. Here’s a quick plot of that showing provider locations.

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This ties us nicely back to the UPPF/Bridge group work – for the good of some local areas, we could get better at keeping graduates in the area they studied. But for the good of graduates, we should make it easier to move away. Traditionally, individual benefit has trumped societal benefit in Conservative policy – I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs.

3 responses to “Should graduates move to get better jobs?

  1. “As you can see, graduates tend to head for the city (and also, mysteriously, Falmouth).” I suspect Falmouth is a hot spot due to the presence of RNAS Culdrose (HMS Seahawk, aka shitehawk) with its officer pilot training and EW research and related activities attracting large numbers of graduates.

  2. Individual graduates will move to the locations they want to go to, for a variety of reasons, after making a series of “trade offs”. Income will be a major factor but local cost of living, particularly housing and transport, will be taken into account. In most cases “value for money” will tip the decision to place A rather than place B.

    Moving well paid public sector jobs to areas of traditional low pay, should increase average incomes in the area and provide some “levelling up” while reducing the cost to the public sector. Given the positive economic impact of having a University nearby, building more Universities outside of London would do the same thing.

    We need to remember, Governments do not directly create jobs in the private sector unless they offer companies subsidies or incentives to locate in particular places. In my opinion, Governments should bring well paid, public sector jobs to places rather than paying relatively better off graduates to move to areas with higher pay.

    If the private sector want graduates in a specific location, let them pay higher salaries to attract them.

  3. “I look forward to one arm of government telling graduates to stay where they are to level up struggling areas, and then another labelling the courses low quality because they lead to low salaries and unskilled jobs” neatly sums up the challenge involved in Access & Participation Plans and targets: to do better in employment outcomes, HEPs should encourage their graduates to move to the bigger cities, but to have a longer-term and more profound impact on widening opportunities, we need our graduates to stay local, contribute to developing local businesses and communities, and encourage their children to pursue education too.

    When I worked in economic regeneration more than 15 years ago there was a lot of anecdotal evidence saying exactly what you’ve illustrated here: “having a university in your area is a great way to have more qualified young people staying in your area” This led to a protracted effort to bring about a university in east Lancashire, which resulted in a UCLan campus in Burnley. It would be fascinating to see a longitudinal study of the impact of a new university on a place which hadn’t previously had one.

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