University education is contributing to geographical inequality across the UK, according to a new report published by a leading economic think tank today.
Higher education allows graduates to move to London and other cities that offer better career prospects, shows research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
By the age of 27, graduates are 10 percentage points more likely to have moved away from where they grew up compared to people who did not go to university.
Career opportunities tend to be more scarce in less urban areas due to these places having a thinner business population. Graduates often leave these areas in search to secure higher earnings elsewhere.
A flight of graduates to cities causes a so-called brain drain – where highly skilled and productive leave local communities, hindering economic prosperity – in coastal and northern areas, the IFS said. This brain drain leaves areas graduates have left behind much worse off.
Xiaowei Xu, a Senior Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “In moving from more deprived areas to London and other cities, graduates improve their own career prospects, but this exacerbates geographical inequality in skills.”
“As well as ‘levelling up’ educational attainment across the country, policymakers should think about how to attract and retain talent in places that are currently less well-off.”
Areas with the highest rates of graduate flight include Northallerton, a market town in Yorkshire, and Grimsby, a fishing town in Lincolnshire.
London, Bristol and Brighton produce large numbers of graduates from their internal population, but also benefit from graduates from other areas moving there.