Special report: Why is Liverpool struggling to attract and retain the brightest graduates?

New report by leading think tank Centre for Cities urges Liverpool city region to prioritise ‘home grown talent’ if it wants to create a dynamic and growing economy. Tony McDonough reports.

Recent University of Liverpool graduates - but how many will remain in the city?
Recent University of Liverpool graduates – but how many will remain in the city?

Liverpool is lagging behind other UK cities in persuading high-achieving graduates to stay once their studies have ended.

That’s a key finding in report out today published by think tank the Centre for Cities which also recommended city regions make more effort to prioritise “home grown talent” rather than trying to attract the brightest from elsewhere.

The study – ‘The Great British Brain Drain: where graduates move and why’ – says that London continues to hoover up the highest-achieving graduates.

With the recent high-profile launch of the expansion of its £2bn Knowledge Quarter, Liverpool is keen to position itself as a global centre of excellence for science and technology.

However, the Centre for Cities report illustrates there is work to be done to convince the brightest young graduates that Liverpool is the place to be.

Lagging behind

In 2014/2015 24% of all working graduates in the UK were pursuing their careers in London. Manchester was second in the table but still a long way behind on 5%

Birmingham attracted 4% of new graduates with Liverpool level with Leeds and Newcastle, attracting just 2% of new graduates to work.

For the same period Liverpool was successful in retaining 31% of its graduates and languished 12th in the retention table.

London was number one with a 77% retention rate Manchester was, again, number two on 52% with Belfast third at 50%.

Centre for cities also analysed data for the top Russell Group graduates – those who achieved first class or upper second class degrees.

The Russell Group is the UK’s leading 24 universities and the list includes the University of Liverpool. The report shows Liverpool attracted just 0.2% of this group to work – behind London at 38% and Manchester at 3%.

Liverpool also attracted just 0.4% of new Oxbridge graduates compared to 52% for London and 1% for Manchester.

What can be done?

Centre for Cities has made the following recommendations as to how city regions such as Merseyside can attract and retain the best talent:

  • Graduates choose where to move based primarily on the relative economic attractiveness of places. Initiatives to improve links between local employers and graduates, and to communicate about existing graduate opportunities, will have most impact in the context of wider economic growth.
  • Cities should therefore focus primarily on strengthening their economies, by investing in transport, housing, innovation and enterprise.
  • Cities also need to prioritise developing home-grown talent, rather than concentrating mainly on attracting graduates from other places. Improving educational attainment among local residents will help to increase the supply of home-grown high-skilled workers.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, 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.

“Wage subsidies and other specific graduate-retention policies will not tackle the root causes of this issues.

“Instead, the priority for national and local leaders should be strengthening city-region economies, and increasing local demand and opportunities for graduates.

“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.”

Top priority

Colin Sinclair, chief executive of Knowledge Quarter Liverpool (KQ Liverpool), said attracting the retaining most talented young graduates was being made a top priority.

He told YBNews: “Liverpool is an incredibly attractive place to study, with significant demand for places.

“We realise we need to do more to retain that graduate talent, and this is part of strategy for the KQ and its member organisations.

Colin Sinclair, chief executive of Liverpool Knowledge Quarter. Picture by Gareth Jones
Colin Sinclair, chief executive of Liverpool Knowledge Quarter. Picture by Gareth Jones

“We also want to attract graduates from other city regions to settle after studying in Liverpool. We think it is about home grown talent and attracting talent from other places, not one or the other .”

Investors are key

Mr Sinclair added that attracting inward investors who would, in turn, be keen to employ the brightest graduates was key to KQ Liverpool’s approach.

He explained: “We are talking about highly skilled jobs in science, health, education and culture, which is exactly what the KQ is about and some of the occupiers we are talking to about Paddington Village are world-leading.

“Investing in innovation spaces, such as the Life Sciences Accelerator, Liverpool Bio Innovation Hub and Sensor City, will enable graduates and postgraduates to go into business themselves and grow the spin outs and start ups they create.

“By focusing on our priorities where we can be distinctive – materials, infection, sensors, we can retain and attract those graduates who want to be the best in the world working in a world leading city.

“We can expand our emphasis on partnership and collaboration between the universities and the private sector. The work the University of Liverpool is doing with Unilever will create highly-skilled jobs for graduates in the KQ and on the Wirral at Port Sunlight.”

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