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.1 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.

The briefing shows that Leeds successfully attracts young people to move to the city to study. Although many of these leave on graduation, some do remain in Leeds. These graduates, combined with the new graduates attracted into Leeds for work by its strong economy, mean that overall the city experiences a brain gain. A different pattern occurs for older graduates, who tend to leave the city but remain within a commutable distance.

Centre for Cities uses the Primary Urban Area (PUA) definition of cities. For Leeds this comprises of Leeds Local Authority, reflecting the built-up area, i.e. physical footprint, of the city. As a result the PUA does not include the other local authorities which make up Leeds city region and Leeds Combined Authority. For more information visit: centreforcities.org/puas.


  • 1 Swinney P and Williams M, The Great British Brain Drain: where graduates move and why, London: Centre for Cities: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/great-british-brain-drain-analysis-migration-liverpool/