The great British brain drain: Leeds

An analysis of migration to and from Leeds

The briefing offers a detailed look at the migration patterns of Leeds' students and graduates

Briefing published on 1 March 2017


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 Leeds. First, it looks at overall migration patterns to and from Leeds. Second, it looks specifically at the movements of students and new graduates, and finally it looks at the graduate labour market in the city.


Net flow of people to Leeds from UK cities, 2009-2015

Key Findings

Like other large cities, Leeds’ migration patterns are dominated by movements of university students and graduates. Between 2009 and 2015 there was a large net inflow of young people into the city for university, and the largest net outflow occurred as students left on graduation.

Overall Leeds experiences a graduate brain gain. A net inflow of 16 to 21 year olds is followed a net outflow of 22 to 30 year old graduates. However, many of those who enter the city between 16 and 21 study there and stay after graduation. Also, Leeds attracts in a significant number of new graduates for work who have not lived in the city before. Therefore, overall the city sees a net gain in graduates. Leeds’ gain is the 3rd highest of all UK cities, behind only London and Manchester, but once the city’s size is accounted for it ranks 7th, above both London and Manchester.

Leeds’ universities play different roles. Leeds Trinity, Leeds Beckett and the College of Art have a much stronger regional pull than the University of Leeds and the NSCD. The latter universities attract a significant proportion of international students and students outside Yorkshire. Retention rates also differ between the institutions. The University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett retain a much lower proportion of graduates than the other three.

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. Therefore, instead of focusing on increasing the retention rates of these universities, policy should instead focus on improving the economy. It is the jobs available to a graduate which determine whether or not they work in that city.

Leeds has a strong graduate labour market in the KIBS sector. A higher proportion of graduates work in the KIBS and other private services sectors in Leeds than in the UK as a whole, and therefore the proportion working in the public sector is smaller. This is likely to be a strong contributing factor to Leeds’ success in attracting many graduates to work in the city.

To increase the number of graduates working in Leeds, be they from Leeds’ universities or from elsewhere, the city should focus on expanding job opportunities, particularly in the KIBS sector. This should be complimented by improvements in transport, and where necessary, housing.



17-02-21 The Great British Brain Drain - Leeds Analysis PDF (3 MB)

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