Like other large cities, Manchester’s migration patterns are dominated by movements of university students and graduates. The city experienced a large net inflow of young people between 2009 and 2017, many of whom were likely to be moving to the city for university. Graduates also contribute significantly to migration patterns, with many young graduates being attracted into the city while older graduates tend to move out to other parts of the North West.

Overall, there is a brain gain for Manchester. 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. In addition, Manchester 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. In 2013/14 – 2014/15, Manchester’s gain was the second highest of all UK cities, second only to London.

More than half of the city’s university students stay for work on graduation. This is one of the highest retention rates of all UK cities. They are joined by graduates from other universities, both those who grew up in Manchester, moved away to study and have returned, and those who moved in for the first time to work.

Manchester’s universities play different roles: some mainly educate local students while others teach a diverse student base. The make-up of the student base at each university varies greatly, from very diverse at the RNCM and University of Manchester, to predominately home-grown students at the University of Bolton and University of Salford. As a result, retention rates differ, with the University of Manchester keeping 35 per cent of its graduates in the city while the University of Bolton retains more than two-thirds.

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 continuing to improve the economy. It is the jobs available to a graduate which determine whether or not they work in that city.

Employment of Manchester’s graduate workforce is very similar to the national picture. Almost half of the city’s new graduates work in the public sector but only 16 per cent work in KIBS firms. This means the city lags behind other strong city economies such as Edinburgh, Reading and London, where roughly a quarter of graduates work in KIBS.

To increase the number of graduates working in Manchester, be they from Manchester’s universities or from elsewhere, the city should focus on expanding job opportunities. A particular focus should be on generating KIBS jobs, as these offer the opportunity for future wage increases and fast career progression, both of which are qualities highly valued by graduates. This should be complemented by improvements in transport, and where necessary, housing, to ensure the city remains an attractive place to live and work.