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Manchester is the second most popular city for new graduates

Manchester is among the best UK cities at both attracting and retaining recent graduates but steps should be taken to diversify the employment base to further expand graduate opportunities

  • Manchester is among the best UK cities at both attracting and retaining recent graduates
  • This is good for the city’s economy but steps should be taken to diversify the employment base to further expand graduate opportunities
  • Investments in housing and infrastructure are needed to keep older graduates in the city

The think tank Centre for Cities, in partnership with the University of Manchester, has found that Manchester is the UK’s second most popular destination for recent graduates. But steps should be taken to broaden its employment base and ensure that it retains older graduates.

The study, Manchester Brain Drain, found that:

  • Overall, the city gained 19,050 16 to 21-year-olds between 2009 and 2017.
  • Over half (51%) of students from Manchester’s universities choose to remain in the city after graduation – only London has a higher retention rate.
  • An even greater proportion (57%) of students from Manchester who left for university return after graduating in other cities – again, second only to London.
  • But after the age of 30 graduates are more likely to leave the city – mostly to nearby parts of the North West.

Where do students in Manchester come from?

Almost one third (31%) of students in Manchester grew up in the city. An additional 16% moved from elsewhere in the North West.

Outside of Manchester itself, London is the most common city of origin for students in Manchester. 7% of all of Manchester’s students come from the capital, followed by Wigan (3%) and Birmingham (2%).

Over half (56%) of students from Manchester leave the city for university. Of these, one third stays in the North West. Leeds is the most popular city for Manchester’s students, drawing in 10% of students leaving Manchester. It is followed by Preston (9%) and Liverpool (8%).

Where do they go after university?

London is the most popular destination for graduates leaving Manchester for work after university. 21% of graduates from universities in Manchester who leave to work elsewhere choose London, significantly more than the numbers choosing the second most popular destination – Liverpool (4%)

However, Manchester also gains graduates aged 22-25 from other places. This is despite the fact that the city offers them the fifth lowest starting salary in the country – £20,870. This suggests that graduates to Manchester are drawn by factors other than pay, such as social and cultural attractions.

While over half of new graduates living in Manchester work in the public sector, just 16% work in knowledge-intensive private sector professions such as law or accounting. This is a significantly lower proportion than in cities such as London, Edinburgh or Reading.

To ensure that Manchester remains an attractive destination for a range of different graduates, city leaders should also take steps to diversify the local economy and reduce the reliance of the public sector. Encouraging the growth of high-knowledge, high paying jobs is central to Manchester’s future success.

How long do graduates stay in Manchester?

While graduates continue to move into Manchester throughout their twenties, after thirty they are more likely to leave.

However, those leaving usually remain within commutable distance of Manchester. Cheshire East (the local authority covering towns such as Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Crewe) drew in the most people aged between 31 and 45 moving out of Manchester, followed by Rossendale and High Peak.

While the trend for older graduates to move out of a city but remain within commutable distance is not uncommon, it is a reminder for Manchester’s city leaders of the need to deliver housing and infrastructure improvements within the city’s boundaries. Otherwise, the numbers of skilled workers leaving the city may increase.

Centre for Cities Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“The large numbers of graduates choosing to live and work in Manchester after finishing university is a testament to what has been done to boost the city’s economy in the last ten years. Manchester is an exemplar for other cities looking to lay the foundations for economic growth.

“To ensure that Manchester’s growth is maintained, the city’s leaders should continue to prioritise the growth of high-skilled businesses in the centre and delivering housing and infrastructure improvements to accommodate a growing workforce.”

City definition

Wigan is treated as a separate urban area to Manchester under the Primary Urban Area definition of a city. You can read our city definition here.

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