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UK regions struggling to retain young talent

A new study by Grant Thornton UK LLP has revealed a student talent retention crisis across the UK, with a number of regions failing to keep hold of their best and brightest young graduates. The research – which surveyed 1,080 university students from across the country – showed a distinct regional divide when it comes to whether university students stay or leave the area after graduating, with some parts of the UK losing the vast majority of their student talent post-graduation.

London is the best performing region, with nearly seven in 10 (69%) students coming to the capital to study wanting to stay and work there after graduating – more than twice the number of any other region.

Scotland was the next best performing region with 32% of students planning to stay post-graduation. In England, the North West ranked highest with 28%.

The East and South East were the worst performing, with 12% and 14% planning to stay, respectively – although this is less surprising given London’s proximity (both regions had a disproportionate number of students planning to move to the capital).

More alarming were the figures for the East and West Midlands, where only 17% plan to stay. This is particularly surprising for the West Midlands, which outside of London had the highest proportion of students that grew up in the area (48%), yet still loses more than four in five students after graduation.

Close to home

According to the findings of the study, there is also a big disparity between the regions when it comes to whether young people choose to go to university close to home or further afield.

Scotland was the best performing part of the UK with 97% planning to stay in country to study – albeit this is unsurprising given the discrepancy in university tuition fees between England and Scotland.

In England London is again the best performing, with 57% of London youngsters staying in the capital to go to university – with the next most popular destination being the South East.

Yorkshire & the Humberside, the West Midlands and North West all perform well in this regard, with 49%, 48% and 46% respectively choosing to go to university where they grew up. In all three cases, London is the second most popular destination.

The South West provides one of the most surprising results, with less than one in four young South-Westerners choosing to go to university in the region – the lowest result of the whole country – while the number of people wanting to move to London is also more than double most of the other UK regions. The retention rate post-graduation, however, is around average, with 22% of students choosing to stay in the region.

Push and pull factors

The research also explored what matters most to students when it comes to choosing where they want to live and work post-graduation.

It wasn’t career opportunities or higher pay but having a good work-life balance that was considered the biggest motivator (48% of respondents) – mirroring the trend that’s already being seen across the Millennial and Generation Z workforce. This was followed closely by being somewhere with family and friends nearby (47%).

Time spent travelling (43%), housing affordability (43%), career development (42%) and job availability (42%) also ranked highly, while housing availability (7%), being able to start or grow a business (8%) and, surprisingly, living in a diverse place (13%) or one with a sense of community (14%) were rated as the least important factors.

Support from businesses

In a part of the survey that focused on London – featured in Grant Thornton’s recent Vibrant Capital report – students were asked what businesses could do to encourage them to stay in or move to the capital after graduation, rather than to somewhere in the UK, or abroad.

Financial support – whether to pay for housing, daily essentials or to pay off student loans – unsurprisingly ranked highly for many. However, they also considered ‘softer’ benefits and support to be important.

Leisure benefits such as gym memberships or tickets to cultural events were seen as worthy contributions from businesses to young talent. The ability to work flexibly also ranked highly, with nearly a quarter of those surveyed believing this would influence their decision about where to live and work.

Keely Woodley, Partner at Grant Thornton UK LLP:

“Businesses up and down the country and from every single sector are crying out for talent. London has its challenges as the Vibrant Capital study suggests, but locals still want to stay in the capital to study, while London also benefits from a strong draw factor not just from nearby regions but from the whole of the UK.

“Away from the capital the picture is more mixed. While some parts of the country see good retention, others struggle to keep hold of their best and brightest young talent, which we believe is directly linked to the vibrancy of the area. This survey shows that students want more from their future home than just career and pay, and indeed, the areas that perform poorly on our Vibrant Economy Index such as the East Midlands also have real problems retaining student talent.

“There are steps that businesses can take to encourage students to commit themselves to the region and help improve the overall vibrancy of communities outside the capital. As we continue to see skills shortages across many sectors and the impacts of Brexit on the talent pool become more apparent, this will become an increasingly business critical issue and companies need to be thinking about this now to alleviate potential problems in the future.

“There’s also a clear role for higher education institutions to play in tackling this problem. Universities around the country need to be proactive in fostering stronger links with local businesses and creating a viable and attractive pathway for departing students to enter the local economy. This is especially important with tuition fees being where they are and universities needing to add as much value as possible for students.”