The great British brain drain: Liverpool

An analysis of migration to and from Liverpool

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

Briefing published on 20 January 2017 by Centre for Cities


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 migrants tend to be younger and more highly-skilled than the population overall. Looking specifically at graduate migration, many university cities lose their graduates to London and this movement is 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 to and from Liverpool. Firstly, it looks at overall migration patterns into and out of Liverpool. 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

  • Like other large cities, Liverpool’s migration patterns are dominated by movements of university students and graduates.
  • There is a large net inflow of young people into the city for university, and the largest net outflow occurs as students leave on graduation.
  • Overall the city gains graduates. An inflow of students to study in the city’s higher education institutions is followed by an outflow of degree holders. But these movements mask the underlying trend of Liverpool gaining graduates. While many people who come to study leave upon graduation, some remain, and this increases the number of degree holders working in the city. The net gain in graduates is equivalent to 2,600 of the graduates who responded to the survey.
  • Liverpool’s universities play different roles. LJMU and Liverpool Hope have a much stronger regional pull than the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. The latter universities attract a significant proportion of international students and students from outside of the North West. As a result, the retention rates of the universities vary: the former group retain a much higher proportion of graduates as they principally attract local students, who are more likely to stay on graduation.
  • Any policies designed to increase retention should keep in mind these different roles. The University of Liverpool’s ability in particular to pull in students from further afield should be seen as a success. But without a greater number of job opportunities for new graduates, many will leave after. This pulls down the retention rate of the university.
  • Ultimately this means that it is the jobs available to graduates that determine how many stay. Improving the job opportunities available to graduates in Liverpool will improve the city’s ability to retain the graduates it produces, as well as attract in graduates from elsewhere. If policy makers want to increase the number of graduates working in Liverpool, be that either through higher retention or through greater attraction, then policy will need to focus on improving the economy rather than more narrowly focusing on direct graduate retention policies.

This paper was supported by Liverpool City Council and the University of Liverpool



19-04-23 Liverpool Briefing PDF (2 MB)