East Midlands struggling to retain young talent

Chris Frostwick

Less than one-fifth of the students studying at East Midlands universities say they plan to stay in the region after they graduate, according to the findings of a new study by business and financial adviser, Grant Thornton UK LLP.

The research – which surveyed 1,080 university students from across the country – examined student migration patterns, as well as the drivers behind where students want to live and work.

The study’s findings reveal the East Midlands is one of the worst UK regions for graduate retention, appearing to struggle to hold onto and appeal to its future talent, with only 17% of its students saying they plan to stay in the region after graduating.

According to the study, almost two-thirds (69%) of the East Midlands’ university students don’t want to stay and live and work in the East Midlands post-graduation, with 33% of these saying they want to move to London.

Of the East Midlands’ university student population responding to the survey, 31% grew up in the region, but the majority (69%) chose to move away from their home region to study at universities elsewhere in the UK.

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

This found that time spent travelling was considered the biggest motivator for East Midlands students (55% of respondents), closely followed by being able to visit family and friends (47%).

Also ranking highly were achieving a good work-life balance (42%), having things to do and places to visit in their free time (42%), and housing affordability (44%). Career development and job availability were voted as being of equal importance by 36% of respondents.

Commenting on the study, Chris Frostwick, practice leader of Grant Thornton’s East Midlands office, said: “The figures for the East Midlands are both surprising and alarming. With only 17% of the region’s students planning to stay here after they graduate, we are losing in the region of four out of five students to either London or elsewhere in the UK.

“Clearly the region as a whole needs to change how it works to retain the talent of the future and encourage the next generation of workers to stay.

“The East Midlands is brimming with dynamic, ambitious and thriving businesses in a range of industry and market sectors. According to this study, the majority of the region’s university students are seeking a career in either life sciences (33%) or finance, law and consulting (27%); given that the East Midlands is home to numerous established, reputable professional services firms, and is recognised for its flourishing life sciences sector – with BioCity in Nottingham and Charnwood Campus near Loughborough – it is disappointing that more of our students feel they have to leave the region to pursue these careers.

“The challenge for the region is to ensure it can keep hold of its brightest young talent and put a stop to the evident problems of 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. Our universities 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.

“We are a region which has an exceptional group of universities attracting genuinely talented students, all of whom will be looking for employment after graduation.  Put alongside a pool of dynamic East Midlands businesses almost all of whom are struggling with skills shortages, it seems a wasted opportunity that we are struggling to find a way to match up those groups.”

The East Midlands was shown to have ‘wide-ranging challenges’ for its economic performance by Grant Thornton’s recently published Vibrant Economy Index, which measures how places in England compare on a range of factors including economic and social performance, prosperity, health, wellbeing, happiness, inclusion and equality.

“Only seven areas in the East Midlands region rank above the Index’s national average, which might offer one explanation as to why so many of our students, including those that grew up in the region, are planning to leave to work and live elsewhere in the country,” comments Chris.

According to Grant Thornton’s student study, London is the best performing region, with nearly seven in 10 (69%) students who have moved to the capital to study, wanting to stay and work there after graduating – more than twice the number of any other UK region.