New report reveals scale of UK brain drain – with London attracting lion’s share of top-ranking Russell Group and Oxbridge graduates

New report from Centre for Cities looks at where graduates move and why.

Press release published on 21 November 2016

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, a new report warns that most UK cities are struggling to attract the high-achieving graduates critical to driving economic growth – with top-ranking students flocking to London for the job opportunities and career progression it offers.

The report, The Great British Brain Drain: where graduates move and why, published today by the think tank Centre for Cities, shows that a quarter of all new graduates (24 per cent) from UK universities in 2014 and 2015 were working in London within six months of finishing their degree.

Moreover, it shows that London is far outperforming other cities in drawing talented graduates from leading UK universities. In 2014-15, the capital attracted more than a third (38 per cent) of new Russell Group graduates with first-class or upper-second class degrees who moved for a job (1) – around 13 times more than Manchester, the second most popular destination for this group.

This trend was even clearer for new Oxbridge graduates, with London gaining more than half (52 per cent) of those who moved for work after finishing university, compared to just 2% in Birmingham and Bristol respectively.

City Share of top-ranking* new Russell Group graduates who moved for work (2014 & 2015) City Share of new Oxbridge graduates who moved for work (2014 & 2015)
1 London 38%   1 London 52%
2 Manchester 3%   2 Birmingham 2%
3 Birmingham 2%   3 Bristol 2%
4 Bristol 2%   4 Manchester 1%
5 Leeds 2%   5 Oxford 1%
6 Reading 1%   6 Cambridge 1%
7 Oxford 1%   7 Leeds 1%
8 Newcastle 1%   8 Reading 1%
9 Edinburgh 1%   9 Edinburgh 1%
10 Cambridge 1%   10 Brighton 1%

*Graduates with first class or upper-second class degrees

The report also makes a number of recommendations on how national and local leaders can address the graduate brain drain – arguing that these should be key considerations in the Autumn Statement, and in the Government’s new economic and industrial strategy to “drive growth up and down the country”:

  • Graduates choose where to move based primarily on the relative economic attractiveness of places and the opportunities they offer. There is little evidence that policies focused only on influencing where graduates move, such as graduate wage subsidises, are effective. Other initiatives to improve links between local employers and graduates, and to communicate about existing graduate opportunities, will have most impact in the context of wider economic growth.
  • Cities should therefore focus primarily on strengthening their economies, by investing in transport, housing, innovation and enterprise. This will be more effective in generating more graduate jobs and opportunities for career progression, and making places more attractive for high-skilled workers.
  • Cities also need to prioritise developing home-grown talent, rather than concentrating mainly on attracting graduates from other places. Improving educational attainment among local residents will help to increase the supply of home-grown high-skilled workers. A more skilled local workforce will also enable cities to support more high-value jobs and businesses, which in turn will boost their appeal for all graduates.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of the Centre said:

“The Government will not achieve its vision of extending prosperity and growth across the country unless it takes steps to help more cities attract and retain the UK’s top talent. Wage subsidies and other specific graduate-retention policies will not tackle the root causes of this issue – instead, the priority for national and local leaders should be strengthening city-region economies, and increasing local demand and opportunities for graduates.

“In the Autumn Statement, the Government should therefore focus on boosting economic growth in city-regions across the country by investing in large-scale housing and transport projects. It should also use the new economic and industrial strategy to reinforce and complement the devolution deals currently in place for city-regions like Greater Manchester, to give them greater scope to grow their economies, and to develop and attract talented workers.”


For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact Brian Semple, Head of Communications at Centre for Cities, on 0207 803 4316 / 07595 439 638 or


  • All data refers to new graduates who moved for work within six months of completing undergraduate studies

About Centre for Cities

Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities. We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies. We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange. For more information, please visit

Report data sources:

The data used in this report comes from a number of sources:

  • ONS Internal Migration data for 2009-2015. This time period was used as it was the longest available to assess patterns of internal migration within England and Wales.
  • Census asked respondents where they lived a year (March 2010) previously, and so gives us a one year snapshot.
  • Higher Education Statistics Authority data for 2014/15 for all students at university in that academic year.
  • Higher Education Statistics Authority Destination of Leavers for Higher Education Survey for the years 2013/14 and 2014/15, which asks students what they were doing six months after graduation.

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