Project Details


The project aimed to develop a picture of patterns of migration among graduates from Scottish higher education institutions beyond the immediate period following graduation, and an understanding of the motivations behind this behaviour. In particular, the research sought to identify which features are associated with graduates who are more (or less) likely to stay in Scotland, the reasons why they may choose to stay or leave, and the relative influence of economic and non-economic factors upon such decisions.

Key findings

• Scotland is a successful ‘importer’ of students. In 2003-2004, 26 per cent of students at Scottish universities came from non-Scottish homes.
• Significant scope exists to improve graduate retention in Scotland. Most graduates not originally from Scotland tend to leave and not return, often in the immediate period following graduation. While 90 per cent of students from Scottish homes were working in Scotland six months after graduating, only 34 per cent of students from elsewhere in the UK and 22 per cent of students from other EU countries were doing so.
• For a majority of all graduates, general attitudes towards Scotland are overwhelmingly positive and Scotland has many assets in terms of increasing the retention and in-migration of graduates. Realising to a greater degree this evident potential would make a significant contribution in terms of addressing some of the nation’s current demographic challenges.
• While graduates often perceived that superior employment opportunities existed in London, there was no evidence of any significant ‘brain drain’ of talent to England, and the most academically able graduates (those with First Class degrees) did not show higher than average levels of out-migration from Scotland.
• Although overall patterns of residence did not change greatly between the period immediately following graduation and the period five years after graduation, this conceals two important processes: delayed migration and return migration. Graduates may therefore be categorized into four groups according to their post-graduation migration behaviour: non-migrants; delayed migrants; immediate migrants; and return migrants.
• The three main factors influencing students’ decisions about where to live and work after graduation were: 1) opportunities perceived to exist in various locations, especially for rewarding and enjoyable work; 2) connections to other people through families and relationships; 3) expectations for the future, with graduates of Scottish origin much more likely to expect to remain in or return to Scotland following graduation.
• Graduates most likely to leave Scotland are those from the south of England and those who had been privately educated and/or came from relatively wealthy backgrounds. Out-migration from Scotland is lower than average among graduates who were mature students and among those who study subjects in which Scotland has historical strengths or distinctiveness, such as medicine, law and education.
• Allegiance to Scotland for the largest ‘migrant’ group – those who originate from England – can be limited by experiences of discrimination based on their nationality. Such discrimination is complex, being experienced differentially between individuals and particular groups. Those from the north of England and/or from less affluent social backgrounds, for example, were less likely to suffer. In contrast, those graduates who originated from Scotland but were living in England generally reported that being Scottish in England was, if anything, an asset rather than a drawback.
• Significant scope exists for policy intervention to increase the proportion of graduates who settle in Scotland. Some of the factors which influence graduate migration behaviour – such as improving the quality of employment opportunities in Scotland – are likely to be long-term political projects. But there are a number of more immediate and modest interventions that may have a beneficial impact. These include: ensuring that information about available employment is communicated as widely as possible to those interested in remaining in or returning to the country; providing graduates with information that presents Scotland as an attractive place to live and work; encouraging a more welcoming attitude towards those who do not originate from Scotland; and fostering the establishment of local connections during university years to encourage students to think about staying on after graduation.
Effective start/end date1/06/0531/03/07


  • ESRC: £51,510.00


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