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West Midlands struggling to retain young talent - claim

13 August 2018

Only 17 per cent of university students studying in the West Midlands want to stay to live and work in the region after graduating, according to a new study.

Grant Thornton’s survey of 1,080 university students across the country reveals a student talent retention crisis across the UK, with a number of regions failing to keep hold of their best and brightest graduates.

The West Midlands is one of the worst performing regions in the UK with just 17 per cent student retention, the same as its neighbour the East Midlands.

London is the best performing region, with 69 per cent of students who go to the capital to study wanting to stay and work there after graduating – more than twice the number of any other UK region.

Twenty per cent of West Midlands’ students are unsure of their next step, but of the 63 per cent who say they want to move elsewhere after graduating, 30 per cent are aiming to leave the region to move to London to live and work.

Although the West Midlands finds it hard to hold onto its graduates, Grant Thornton’s research shows that the region’s higher education institutions appeal to a healthy proportion of its own young people, with 48 per cent of students who grow up in the region choosing one of its local universities.

The research also explored what matters most to students when it comes to choosing where they want to live and work post-graduation. Coming out on top are career development and good transport links, chosen by 50 per cent of West Midlands’ students when ranking their top five factors.

Also ranking highly are good work/life balance, highlighted by 47 per cent of respondents, followed by time spent travelling (42 per cent) and availability of jobs that match their skills (42 per cent).

Affordability of housing is also an important aspect of the decision-making process, highlighted as a top five factor by 41 per cent, with the same percentage citing the cost of daily essentials such as food and utilities as vital.

David Hillan (pictured), practice leader at Grant Thornton in Birmingham, said: “These findings are very troubling for the West Midlands’ economy. The region is home to some of the country’s finest universities and as our research shows, it attracts nearly half of its local undergraduates to study here, yet it’s failing to retain that talent.

“Skills shortages have been a major concern for many businesses across the region for some time. In our Growth Report earlier this year, we found that 24 per cent of businesses in the region highlighted talent and skills as a top five barrier to growth and Brexit has already started to affect particular sectors’ ability to attract and retain staff.

“That particular trend is certain to continue and, with the huge number of growing businesses in the region, plus the public sector, there is more that could be done to promote local opportunities.

“It’s clear that there a number of factors influencing students’ decision-making. Opportunities for career development are undoubtedly crucial and this is where universities can be proactive in fostering strong links with local businesses. Interestingly, greater collaboration between business and education was also discussed during the West Midlands Inquiry we hosted last year and seen as critical to the region’s future.

“Such partnerships can help create an attractive pathway for departing students to enter the local economy, which is especially important with tuition fees being where they are and universities needing to add as much value as possible for students.

“Whether we operate in the private, public or third sector we all have a part to play in turning these statistics around, and fast. I’d go as far as to say that our region’s future prosperity depends upon it.”

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