The Gainers and Losers From the United Kingdom’s University‐Related Migration

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A new research paper by Professor Tony Champion, Professor Anne Green and Dr Kostas Kollydas, published in Population, Space and Place, delves into the dynamics of university-related migration in the UK and its implications on spatial disparities, with a keen focus on subregional impacts.


The motivation for this research was the significant increase in higher education (HE) participation rates in the UK over the last decades, a trend which is mirrored globally. This surge comes with implications for HE-related internal migration, particularly in relation to spatial inequalities. Graduates can play a crucial role in boosting an area’s economic development and productivity. They do this in various ways, including enhancing the local skillset, driving innovation, fuelling entrepreneurship, and facilitating the spread of new ideas and knowledge. In this context, a skilled workforce in underperforming areas can stimulate development and likely reduce subregional inequalities.

Previous studies have highlighted the role of HE in influencing migration patterns, but the focus has often been on broader regional impacts rather than the nuanced effects at the subregional level. Our work builds on this foundation aiming to provide a more granular understanding of how university-driven migration shapes local economies.

Data and Approach

Our analysis employs data from the Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) for two academic years (2017/18 and 2018/19). The GOS collects information about UK graduates (such as employment status, workplace location, and occupation) approximately 15 months after graduation. We meticulously coded the location where students lived before university (“domicile”), their place of university study, and workplace location to 53 UK subregions. This geographical division provides significantly enhanced spatial detail compared to the traditional 12-way breakdown used for regional analysis, thus enabling a thorough examination of the spatial dimensions of migration trajectories. To achieve greater homogeneity of the graduate population, our sample comprises only young people who started their undergraduate courses by the age of 20 with known UK domicile, university, and workplace locations.

We introduce an accounting framework for categorising subregions based on their net gains or losses in student/graduate populations, further dissecting these movements into eight distinct migration trajectories to assess both quantitative and “qualitative” impacts. The latter impacts are measured in terms of educational qualifications before university and occupational status 15 months after graduation.


Our findings reveal a complex picture of migration dynamics, with a notable concentration of talent in certain urban centres, particularly in Greater London. The capital experiences a net gain in both the number and “quality” of graduates. Specifically, London’s ratio of post-graduation workplace numbers to pre-university domicile numbers stands at an impressive 1.72, thereby signifying its role as a major attractor of young, highly qualified individuals.

This picture contrasts with more rural and peripheral subregions, which tend to lose graduates, both in terms of sheer numbers and the average quality of their new graduate workers. Our analysis shows that more subregions experience a “double whammy” effect—losing out in both quantitative and qualitative terms—than those seeing net gains from university-related migration. These areas not only witness a net outflow of young adults moving for university education but also fail to attract them back upon graduation. Subregions such as the Highlands & Islands, Suffolk, Shropshire, and Cumbria experience significant declines in their graduate populations, with ratios of workplace numbers to domicile numbers indicating a substantial net loss. These disparities in talent distribution are indicative of the challenges these areas face in contributing to and benefiting from the “levelling-up” agenda.


In conclusion, our study provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of university-influenced migration on subregional dynamics in the UK, offering critical insights for policymakers, educators, and local developers. We show that the spatial redistribution of students and graduates presents both challenges and opportunities for achieving more balanced and equitable regional development. A key insight from the analysis is the varied impact across different subregions, highlighting a pronounced geographical unevenness in the migration outcomes.

This information is crucial for developing strategies aimed at retaining and attracting young talent, particularly in areas hit hardest by internal migration losses. Potential policy measures include investment in local education and employment opportunities, thus emphasising the importance of creating attractive conditions for study and work that can help mitigate the adverse effects of current migration patterns. Key recommendations also include enhancing investment in science and technology infrastructure in areas currently lacking, alongside boosting small and medium-sized enterprises’ engagement with university collaborations.

This blog was written by: Tony Champion, Emeritus Professor, Newcastle University; Anne Green, Professor City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham; and Kostas Kollydas, Research Fellow City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.

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