Mapping Graduate Mobility

The UK evidence

In June 2013, the Foresight Future of Cities project was launched in the UK, as a key effort to develop an evidence base on the future of UK cities to inform decision-makers. During the last few years, I have closely followed the outputs of the project and enjoyed reading their analysis and reports.

Recently, the project’s 3 final outputs were released, one of which examines the role of graduate mobility in driving productivity of cities. An important part of the analysis is to understand the current patterns of graduate mobility, especially how each city (or each region) fares against its counterparts.

There are 4 categories of graduate mobility, as defined in the report: Incomers (neither lived or studied in the area previously), Returners (left the area to study and returned for work), Stayers (studied and stayed to work), and Loyals (lived, studied and stayed to work within the region).

Using the data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on the destination of leavers from higher education, the report shows the workplace destinations of graduates from all higher education providers in England, Scotland and Wales.

Creative maps in the report creatively show proportional flows analysis of graduates from the 2013/2014 cohort to the seven cities selected by the project: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester. See these maps below.


Not surprisingly, London attracts graduates all over the UK. For instance, over 40% of graduates from Cambridge and Oxford choose to work in London. While Cambridge and Oxford may not be that far from London, the University of St Andrews, which is located in Scotland, is rather distant from the capital in the UK context. However, around one third of graduates from this Scottish university also relocated themselves in London for jobs. The other two large cities – Birmingham and Manchester are also able to attract some graduates from universities far away.

In contrast, smaller cities such as Cardiff are less successful in this regard. Cardiff itself has 3 universities: Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales. Even for these 3 universities, less than 30% of graduates choose to remain in Cardiff for work, while the rest 70% leave the Welsh capital. It might be true that graduate attraction is an important factor to look at, but for Cardiff, and other cities similar, an even more urgent issue is graduate retention.

In the last two decades, London has been enjoying comparatively high productivity and growth, while Wales (of which Cardiff the capital and the largest city) has been lagging behind the UK average in those indicators. There are strong positive correlations between the share of skilled workers in a city and the productivity growth of that city.

What about Ireland?

In the previous blog, I briefly mentioned the HEA report – What do Graduates Do? The Class of 2013. It offers insights into the first destination of graduates in Ireland, nine months after graduation. The 4th section of the report is about the regional distribution of employed graduates. However, regional of employment data was not available for Trinity College Dublin, this section presents information for only 6 Irish universities.

According to the report, “Dublin is the region with the most employment opportunities for graduates across all levels of qualification with 34% of Honours Bachelor Degree, 32% of Higher Diploma, 27% Graduate Diploma, 43% Taught Masters, 37% Research Masters and 32% of Doctorates employed in this region.” The following figures show the picture of Irish graduates.

Honours Bachelor Degree GraduatesHigher and Postgraduate Diploma GraduatesTaught Masters, Research Masters and Doctorate Graduates

In comparison to the HESA data, the HEA data do not allow us to carry out institutional level analysis, i.e. it is not possible for us to access the raw data of these surveys and understand graduate mobility between regions or cities. To be specific, we still don’t know, how many of those graduates now working in Dublin are from Dublin-based universities or from universities located outside the capital city. Further accessible data from the HEA, or other government organisations that hold relevant data, should be welcomed.