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.