The great British brain drain: an analysis of migration to and from Newcastle

This briefing offers a detailed look at the migration patterns of graduates and students to and from Newcastle

The economic performance of UK cities is increasingly dependent on the skills of their workforce. Cities across the UK face the challenge of both attracting and retaining high-skilled talent. The Great British Brain Drain investigates migration within the UK, specifically between cities. It finds that many university cities lose their graduates to London, with this movement especially strong for the highest performing graduates with 2.1 or 1st class degrees from Russell Group universities. Despite this, most university cities experience a ‘graduate gain’: they gain more graduates than they lose. This is because the majority of movements to and from cities consist of students moving to a new city for university, and then moving again for work, with over half of all graduates following this pattern.

This briefing is a complementary piece of analysis to the main report, in which we look in detail at the nature of migration and graduate mobility into and out of Newcastle. First, it looks at overall migration patterns into and out of Newcastle. Secondly, it looks specifically at the movements of students and new graduates. Finally, it looks at the new graduate labour market in the city.

Key findings

Newcastle’s migration patterns are dominated by the movements of university students and graduates. Between 2009 and 2015 there was a large net inflow of young people into the city, many of whom came to study at one of the city’s two universities. There was then a subsequent net outflow of graduates as they moved around the country for work, with a particularly strong flow towards London.

Overall the city gains a significant number of graduates. Despite the net outflow of young graduates after university, there was a net gain to Newcastle overall. This was because some of those who moved into the city before university stayed afterwards. Also, many graduates moved into the city for work even though they had not lived or studied there before. As a result Newcastle had the 8th highest net gain of graduates all UK cities.

A large proportion of students move in for university and leave straight after graduation. However, this should not necessarily be viewed as a negative. If the city can attract enough graduates from other universities to fill its labour market then there is no drawback to its role educating graduates who go on to work elsewhere.

Newcastle’s universities have different patterns of student recruitment. Newcastle University attracted students from a wide range of locations, and had a strong international pull. In contrast, Northumbria attracted a much higher proportion of students from the North East region and from the city itself. Retention rates also differed across the institutions, with Northumbria retaining a higher proportion of students due to its more local catchment.

Any policies designed to increase retention should keep in mind these different roles. Universities with lower retention rates tend to have these because of their role in educating national and international students, not necessarily because they are less successful at retaining their students.

The city should focus on improving the economy, as the availability of graduate jobs is the main determinant of graduates’ chosen work location. In addition, if there is a need to better link graduates to jobs in Newcastle then policies can be designed to provide this brokerage role. However, our wider research, and other research in the area, shows that those cities that are most successful at attracting and retaining new graduates are the ones with the greatest number of job opportunities. Given this, strengthening the economy should be the primary approach to increasing the number of new graduates in Newcastle.

The city should also look to improve the qualifications of older workers. Newcastle’s below average share of graduate workers is driven by its older residents. Although the city has a lower share of degree-holders in its workforce than the UK average, the proportion of young people with degrees is higher than the average. Therefore, as well as focusing on increasing the number of new graduates in the city, Newcastle’s skills policy should also aim to improve qualifications for older workers who hold no or few qualifications.