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Large-scale city-region investment vital to stop graduate ‘brain drain’

The government should focus on boosting economic growth in city-regions by investing in large-scale housing and transport projects in the Autumn Statement, think tank Centre for Cities has argued – as well as using the economic and industrial strategy to complement devo deals currently in place.

The investment boost and reinforcement of existing devolution deals, such as in Greater Manchester, will give city-regions “greater scope” to grow their economies, therefore attracting more talented workers, the think tank’s report said.

These calls came as Centre for Cities found most UK cities are struggling to attract the top-ranking graduates critical to driving their economic growth, with a disproportionate amount moving to London.

Its report, ‘The Great British Brain Drain: where graduates move and why’, found that 24% of all new UK graduates were working in London within six months of finishing their degree – with the figure rising to 38% for Russell Group graduates and over 50% for Oxbridge graduates.

The think tank has consequently called for local and national government to strengthen economies in regional areas in order to help them to compete, believing that graduate-retention policies are not enough alone to stop the ‘brain drain’.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Alexandra Jones, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “The government will not achieve its vision of extending prosperity and growth across the country unless it takes steps to help more cities attract and retain the UK’s top talent.

“In the Autumn Statement, the government should therefore focus on boosting economic growth in city-regions across the country by investing in large-scale housing and transport projects.

“It should also use the new economic and industrial strategy to reinforce and complement the devolution deals currently in place for city-regions like Greater Manchester, to give them greater scope to grow their economies, and to develop and attract talented workers.”

The several recommendations made by the report to address the trend include developing home-grown talent; improving links between local employers, universities and graduates; concentrating on innovation and enterprise policies that are attractive to graduates; and improving transport, housing and planning, which contribute to a city-region’s overall economy.

“The patterns of graduate migration appear to be primarily driven by job opportunities,” the think tank commented in their summary of the report.

“If a city wants to attract and retain a greater number of graduates, then it needs to support economic growth, rather than rely on narrower policies specifically targeted at graduate attraction and retention. Cities should aim to support the creation of more jobs, and particularly high-skilled knowledge jobs.”

However, the report warned that while universities are important to cities, they are not vital, and therefore advised areas to “think carefully about the costs and benefits” before looking to acquire one.

Despite drawing a meagre 2%, Manchester was found to be the second most attractive city for Russell Group graduates, highlighting the vast disparity in pulling power between London and the rest of the country. Birmingham and Bristol were second for Oxbridge graduates, again drawing 2% each.

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