Where do graduates go? It depends on their degree

Recent BSc Graduates at Victoria University of Wellington’s capping parade in May 2022. Graduates from all fields of study other than agriculture are attracted to locate in places that have high overall quality of business, which tend to be the large cities. Photo: Louise Thomas.

A highly-educated population is a known key driver of local growth and prosperity, but one of the main challenges facing non-metropolitan regions is convincing highly educated young people to move into their area and then keeping them. In turn, losing the brightest from a community can lead to reduced business creation, innovation, growth, and community well-being in such regions.

Local decision-makers wish to attract and retain young qualified people, but what are the specific drivers that encourage graduates to settle in a particular place? What are the chances of students returning upon graduation? Is there potential to attract other graduates to the area?

Research by Building Better Thriving Regions researchers through Motu Economic and Public Policy Research has analysed the locations of choice of university and polytechnic students in New Zealand two years and four years after graduation, taking into account the location of their tertiary education and their original home location. The research was recently published in the Annals of Regional Science journal, an international regional and urban studies journal that publishes papers which make a new or substantial contribution to the body of knowledge in which spatial dimension plays a fundamental role.

Arthur Grimes, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and one of the authors of the paper, says they wanted to investigate ‘pull factors’ that encouraged graduates to locate to particular places.

“Where there is no local university or polytechnic, regions lose for at least some years their youth who seek a tertiary education. The chances of students returning upon graduation and the chances of attracting other graduates depends on a range of ‘pull factors’, student characteristics, and where the tertiary education was undertaken.

“Some students might return home after graduating, but others are likely to find work in the city in which the higher education institute is located. Alternatively, graduates may move to another large city, or go abroad. The presence of higher education institutes, especially a university, directly contributes to population and employment growth in a region.

“After that, not surprisingly, graduates are attracted to places that have high-quality production businesses, resulting in good job opportunities.

“But what is also interesting is that both creative arts and commerce graduates are drawn to places that are attractive to business. It would appear there is a real symbiosis between ‘bohemians’ and business.”

Graduates from all fields of study other than agriculture want to live in places that have high overall quality of business, which tend to be large cities. High quality of life is also an attractor for some students, but its impact isn’t as strong as the pull of income opportunities.

Armed with this knowledge, local decision-makers for non-metropolitan towns and cities can seek to leverage their existing amenities, and invest in new amenities, that are good for businesses so as to retain or attract recent graduates in specific fields. They may also wish to invest in lifestyle amenities that act as drawcards for new graduates.

Read the journal paper by the Motu/BBHTC Thriving Regions research team:

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Date posted: 29 August 2022