Stay, relocate, or return home: What comes after graduation for UK students?


A city is an entirely different place for those at university compared to those who’ve graduated and are looking to start working life.

Choosing your place of study tends to come down to your course, your friends, and most importantly, the nightlife. Things start to look very different once the reality of graduation hits, meaning you have to look beyond the bars and restaurants available in your city to more practical aspects.

This leads to many students leaving the city where they studied, contributing to the concept of ‘brain drain’.

Brain drain is the movement of graduates from their city of study once they’ve graduated. This is an issue as it leads to the city losing some of its best young minds, who would no doubt bring benefits to local businesses and the city’s economy.

We wanted to investigate the movement of students after they’ve finished their studies, understanding the biggest influences on their decision.

A survey of 2,000 recent graduates shined some light on the subject.


Where are graduates moving?

The results prove that many students do decide to move on from their university home once they’ve graduated.

58% of recent graduates said they left their city of study, with one third (33%) returning to where they grew up, deciding three years away from the comforts of home is quite enough.

No matter how much you love the place you studied, moving to a new city offers up new challenges and opportunities. This was the case for 25% of recent graduates, who opted to move to a new city or town in search of fresh opportunities.

London is the top destination for graduates. Of those who decided to take on new pastures, almost a quarter (24%) had their sights set on the English capital. London is a major business hub, so it comes as no surprise to see so many graduates move there in order to profit from opportunities available.

Other popular cities for recent graduates include Manchester (8%), Birmingham (7%), and Bristol (6%). However, these rival cities are still some way behind London.


What influences post-uni decisions?


What influences student' decisions on where to work after graduation

We quizzed recent graduates on the factors that influenced their choice of home after they’d packed up their uni room up for the final time.

Family was the most important thing for students when choosing where to work after their studies. 36% of post-grads said that being close to their loved ones influenced their decision on where to settle.

This comes out some way ahead of job opportunities, which influenced 27% of students.

For many students, some cities aren’t easy to find work in, forcing them to move to further their career. This is particularly evident in the legal and construction industries. 41% of those who work in the legal sector were influenced by job opportunities, and the same applies to 39% of post-grads working in architecture, engineering, and building.

It comes as no real surprise that nearly one-quarter (24%) of graduates see house and rent prices as an important factor.

Without the support of a student loan, post-grads can be priced out of some of the more expensive places in the UK.

For those who found love at university, graduation can bring uncertainty to a relationship. 24% said they made their decision on where to live after university based on proximity to a partner.


Which cities are currently doing best?


Best uni cities for graduate retention


Although the majority choose to leave, 36% of recent graduates couldn’t bring themselves to move away from the city where they studied.

These results aren’t consistent when compared between different university towns. Many graduates fell in love with the atmosphere and culture and were fortunate enough to find opportunities that allowed them to stay. Keeping hold of bright young graduates is important for any city, and we found out which are best at keeping hold of their students once they’ve graduated.

We also quizzed them on their time at university, hoping to find out if their experience during their studies was enough reason to stay.

1) Glasgow – 51.1%

Glasgow is the city that sees the highest percentage of students stay after their time at university has come to an end, with over half (51%) staying after graduation.

Glasgow was also voted as one of the best university experiences by ex-students. It has the best city culture in the UK with 78% rating it as good or excellent, and the second-best city atmosphere (79%).

When it came to post-graduation career opportunities, over half (53%) rated them as good or excellent, which is the fourth highest in the UK.

So, it is no real surprise that many of Glasgow’s students choose to stay after their time at university comes to an end.


2) Edinburgh – 50.9%

Edinburgh also sees 51% of its students stay after university, making the Scottish cities the only two in the UK to have over half of their graduates settle for work.

Edinburgh didn’t have as many stand-out stats when it comes to university experience, but it scored consistently across the board.

47% rated post-graduation career opportunities as good or excellent, the sixth highest in the UK. Couple this with the fact that 71% rated the city atmosphere as good or excellent, and 73% said the same for city culture, and it’s easy to understand why graduates stay in Edinburgh for work.


3) London – 46.7%

Outside of Scotland, London has the biggest population of students who stay after graduation.

47% of graduates who studied there found jobs in the English capital. With almost a quarter of relocating students heading to London, it’s one of the most popular locations for post-grads in the UK.

London is the fourth best city in the UK for networking opportunities and was also voted as good or excellent for city amenities by 73% of ex-students.

There’s no doubt graduates are drawn to London due to the huge range of opportunities, as London is home to some of the world’s biggest names in business.


The ultimate university city

When it came to rating university experience, Bristol deserves a special mention.

If you studied in the South-West city, you’ll probably agree it has everything you need as a student.

When asked about the experience they had in their university town, 82% of Bristol graduates rated the city’s atmosphere as good or excellent. This is the best in the UK, and the trend doesn’t stop there.

Bristol also topped the ranking for city amenities such as shopping (81%), and, settling an ever-lasting debate amongst students, it has the best nightlife in the UK (75%).

Falling just short of a full house when it comes to city experience as a student, Bristol was voted second best for culture (74%) behind Glasgow.

So, if you’re an undergrad with your heart set on studying Bristol, you have a lot to look forward to.


What more can universities do to support students?

The period after graduation can be daunting. Not everyone is certain what they want to do next, and even for those that do, finding the right job can be tough.

Less than half of recent graduates rated the support from their university as good, and just 4% said it influenced their decision on where to work after they’d graduated.

This shows there is potential room for improvement, which could encourage more students to stay where they studied.

We asked recent graduates how they could be convinced to stay and settle in their university city for work.

Some of the popular responses included:


“There needs to be a clear progression, perhaps post-study properties that offer cheaper rates while you look for work/are on low earnings. Right now, it's a bit 'you've finished, congratulations' then the rug is pulled out from under you and the very next day you are alone again.”


“More opportunities provided by the university to network and meet potential employers in the city.”


“More support for local businesses, if universities create stronger links between these businesses and themselves, it could help more students find jobs in the city.”


If given the choice, many students would love to stay in the city they fell in love with during their time at university. Packing up your room for the final time brings the pressure of taking that next step in life.

More support from universities in networking and finding potential employment will help keep young minds in their city of study.

Universities that work to gain a reputation for helping their graduates take the next step are likely to give their city a helping hand in keeping their highly-skilled young people.