Page navigation

Who stays and who goes? Graduate retention under the microscope

August 2005

This article first appeared in the Summer 2005 edition of Graduate Market Trends, published by Prospects


This article follows on from last issue's 'Regional perspectives on graduate destinations' article, which looked at graduate movements between regions of the UK. Using data collected from 2003 first degree graduates six months after graduation, our research found that:

  • Graduate positions in health, teaching and social work were proportionally more likely to be filled by those who had stayed in their home region to study and work.
  • New hospital internships in a region were likely to be filled by incomers who did not originally hail from the area.
  • There is evidence that graduates returning to their home region to work after studying elsewhere were less likely than other groups to go straight into graduate-level posts.


In the following research, we examine the likelihood of graduates working within a particular region in terms of their regions of domicile and study, and look at the different populations of graduates in that light. The data used in this study comes from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)'s Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) survey from 2004, which polled graduates leaving university in 2003, and examined what they were doing six months after graduation, in January 2004. We have split the working populations into four groups:

  1. Regional loyals - these are graduates who are domiciled in a region, went to study in the region, and remained to work in that region. They make up the largest group of graduate employees from 2003 in most regions. They often take up positions in health or social care.
  2. Regional returners - these are graduates domiciled in a region, who go elsewhere to study, and then return to their home region to work. In many regions, these make up the next largest group of graduates.
  3. Regional stayers - these are graduates who travel away from their home region to study, and then stay in that study region to work. They are quite likely to enter the health sector to work.
  4. Regional incomers - these are graduates who go to work in a region in which they neither studied nor were domiciled. They often come to a region for jobs which may be higher paid, in management, engineering, or science.

We now look at each region individually. See Table 1 for a summary of the breakdown of graduates working in each region.

LoyalsReturners StayersIncomers
North East 59.117.915.77.3
North West 53.724.014.08.2
Yorkshire and the Humber43.122.625.29.1
East Midlands33.233.218.814.8
West Midlands40.634.611.313.5
East 25.746.57.919.9
South East36.232.412.219.2
South West 34.833.915.515.8
Northern Ireland84.813.50.31.4

North East

Of the 5,685 graduates from 2003 working in the region six months after graduating, nearly six in ten (59.1%) were Loyals, who had stayed in their home region to study and remained there to work. Nursing, management and social work were the main destinations for this group. One in six (17.9%) were Returners to their home region, having studied elsewhere. This group were mainly concentrated in administrative and retail positions, although they were also more likely than other groups to return to the region as teachers. One in seven (15.7%) stayed in the area after studying there, and these Stayers made up the largest group of new medical interns in the region. Only a relatively small number of graduates moved to the region without having lived or studied there.

North West

The region rates very highly in retaining orattracting all groups of graduates, in the top five regions for all four categories. Just over half of the graduates (53.7%) from 2003 who were working in the North West six months after graduating were Loyals who were domiciled in the region, and had studied there. They had a strong presence in management, in teaching and in nursing. Just under a quarter (24%) were Returners, and this group were most likely to come home to administrative positions, or jobs in personnel and financial services. Graduates who moved away from home to study in the North West were the third most likely to stay in their region of study, making up 14% of the working population, and these Stayers made up the majority of new hospital interns. For more information, see the article An overview of the North West graduate labour market in the fourth issue of the Graduate Market Trends e-newsletter. To subscribe, email:

Yorkshire and the Humber

Yorkshire and the Humber has a wide mix of backgrounds. 43.1% of 2003 graduates working there six months after graduating were from the region, and had studied there. In common with other regions, this group made up the bulk of new teachers and nurses. The next largest group in the region were actually those who had studied in Yorkshire and the Humber but were not originally from the region. Many of this group were hospital workers. Half of people from the region who had studied elsewhere returned to work in Yorkshire and the Humber. They were more likely than other groups to be in management or administrative posts. Finally, those who came in from outside the region made up only 9.1% of the working population. Spread out through the economy, engineering jobs were disproportionately likely to be filled by a member of this group.

East Midlands

82.1% of graduates who were domiciled and had studied there remained to work – the third lowest, by percentage, of all the regions. Teaching, nursing and social work were all dominated by this group, but they were very unlikely to train in other health professions. The largest group of new managers in the region came from the ranks of those who had returned after studying elsewhere - but this category also included the largest number of graduates entering low level office work and retail. Again, the bulk of new hospital workers came from outside the area but had studied there, whilst new engineers were most likely to have neither studied nor lived in the East Midlands. The article, Graduate Employment Choices in the East Midlands, in the Spring 2005 edition of Graduate Market Trends, carries a more in depth look at the graduate labour market in this region.

West Midlands

This region retained 89.1% of those employed graduates who were domiciled and had studied there. Teaching and nursing were again very popular destinations for this group. The area is also good at convincing graduates to return after studying away, 51.1% coming home to work. This group are the largest occupiers of new business and marketing positions in the West Midlands. Conversely, few graduates who were not from the region chose to stay after study. Hospitals were, once more, a key employer for this group. More graduates were domiciled and studied outside the West Midlands but came to work there (13.5% of the local new working graduate population), and this puts the region sixth for popularity of this group. They make up the largest group of new engineers employed in the area.

Eastern region

This region retains the smallest number overall of graduates who were both domiciled and studied in the region, and the fourth smallest by proportion (82.4%). These regional loyals are strongly grouped in management and nursing. The largest group of working graduates in the region consists of those who returned home after studying elsewhere, although again, the region is relatively poor at attracting graduates back. The business sector and administrative jobs are common destinations for this group. Relatively few graduates stay here after study if they were not originally from the region - again, this is the third worst region for retaining this group of graduates, keeping one in five. Most new hospital interns, one of the largest occupations for new graduates in the region, came from outside the region having not studied there. This contrasts with many of the other areas of the UK, for whom this is a key destination for those who stay after study.


The capital is, as usual, a rather different proposition to the rest of the country. London came at the top of the table for returning graduates, for graduates staying after study, and was by far the most popular region for graduates opting to leave both study and domicile region for work. But, perhaps surprisingly, London was a relatively less attractive option for graduate Loyals, with 87.2% of this group staying. Only four other UK regions had a lower retention rate. This group occupied the largest number of positions in management, in nursing and in office work. Returners and Stayers made up relatively smaller numbers, although the latter again made up the largest cohort of new medical interns. The Incomers were also a very large group, 31.6% of new graduates working in London, and occupied the largest proportion of posts in science, engineering, finance and IT. Whilst primary school teachers in the region were overwhelmingly likely to be Loyals, secondary school teachers came from outside the capital to work.

South East

The region lies at the bottom end of retention of Loyals (80% stay, largely in management, teaching and healthcare jobs). It fares relatively poorly for attracting Returners, standing as fourth worst at 46.7%. Returners are the largest group of IT, business and finance and media employees in the region. Graduates who were not domiciled in the South East but studied there eschew the region for London to work, and as a result the region lies bottom of the table when it comes to retaining this group, keeping just 19%. But it is the second most popular destination outside London for those leaving home and study region for work, and this large group of graduates are strongly placed in science, engineering and the region's hospitals.

South West

The South West has the lowest retention of Loyals in the UK. 76.8% chose to stay in their home and study region, primarily in management, teaching, health and the public sector. But the region is relatively popular with the other three graduate groups, in the top half for all the other categories. Returners made up one in three of the local working graduate populations, and they were particularly important sources for employers looking for engineers and sales and marketing professionals. One in six (15.5%) of local working graduates were Stayers, who were distributed throughout the labour market, and a similar proportion were Incomers, who were very strongly represented in the healthcare and IT sectors.


Graduate employment in Wales was dominated by Loyals who stayed to work in their home region after also studying there. 90.2% of Welsh domiciled, Welsh studying graduates stayed to work in the region, and they were the largest group of graduate employees in most sectors in the country. Wales was not so good at attracting graduates back once they have left to study elsewhere - only 43.1% return, the second lowest total in the UK. Just under one in four (24%) of non-Welsh graduates who studied in Wales opted to stay, and like many other areas, the health sector was a frequent destination for this group. Wales was not a common destination for those who neither hail from the region, nor studied there, although this small group are proportionally more likely to go into management positions than the other three.


Scotland was very good at retaining Loyals (91.3% stayed, the third highest in the UK), and lies behind only London both for attracting returning Scottish graduates who studied elsewhere, and for convincing non-Scots who studied there to stay to work - although in numerical terms, both populations are small, since so many Scots studied at home. Perhaps as a result, few non-Scottish graduates who did not study in the country go there to work. 83.1% of 2003 graduates who were working in Scotland were both domiciled and studied in the country, and so this group dominates the labour market.

Northern Ireland

The tendency of working graduates from 2003 to have lived, studied and worked in the same region was even stronger in Northern Ireland than in Scotland. Only a handful of graduates stayed after study or came in from outside, and neither population was significant in the local labour market. With so many Loyal graduates (Northern Ireland was the best region in the UK at retaining Loyals), they occupied the majority of positions throughout the employment sector, although Returners, who made up one in eight (13.5%) of the graduate population, were proportionally more likely to go into management.


  1. Graduate Employment Choices in the East Midlands, Institute for Employment Studies, 2005.

Get insights in your inbox!

Related articles

Loading articles...





This article is tagged with:

Event: {{}}



This event is tagged with:

Loading articles...