The great migration South


  • A third of UK graduates move to London to start their professional careers.
  • Our survey confirms that almost a third of UK undergraduates and recent graduates prefer to work in London.
  • This means most regions lose young talent in London’s favour.
  • At Intern Avenue we believe that promoting regional internship and graduate job culture could improve the demographic dynamics and have a positive impact on uk wide businesses

Most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that London is the top destination for graduates moving for work, with a third of 22-30 year olds moving into London, with a net flow of more than 33,000 internal migrants in that age range in 2014. This is a credible figure, as London is responsible for a fifth of all the jobs created in the private sector between 2010 and 2012, a time when recession was still hitting the UK economy.

At Intern Avenue, we wanted to study this phenomenon, correlate it with our data, and throw our ideas on how to narrow the gap between London and other UK cities in terms of young talent. We believe internships and graduate job culture should be encouraged  throughout the country and have a positive  impact in the retention of graduates near their universities or even better, promoting mobility within the country with regions providing and attracting talent to and from different areas.

From which regions do students come from? Where do they study?

First of all, let’s look at the distribution of the UK population and the distribution of students per region side by side.

As we can see, there’s greater concentration of population and students in the South, but it is still an even distribution, with all regions — except Northern Ireland and the East of England — hosting a similar number of students, around 300,000.

Where do they want to work?

In this table, from a 50,000 candidate wide sample, we can see how a third are willing to work in London, while only around 20% would like to do so in the North East, West and the Midlands whilst they contribute 30% of total students.

Region Desired job location
London 28.97%
South East 12.70%
Midlands 9.88%
North West 7.80%
East Anglia 7.79%
South West 6.97%
Yorkshire 6.85%
Scotland 5.58%
North East 5.19%
Wales 4.92%
Northern Ireland 3.35%

Where are the jobs?

The following figure from the ONS illustrates the reason behind why a third of graduates move to London after finishing their degrees. In darker colors, we have administrative regions with a higher concentration of jobs in professional services. As we can see, London and the South East are the regions with most jobs.

Darker colors represent more concentration
Distribution of professional qualified jobs in UK (ONS, 2011). Darker colours represent more concentration of jobs.

Demographical issues: a missed opportunity?

This concentration of work in the Greater London area is an undeniable fact. We have seen how 30% of the graduate jobs are in London, and the fact that London accounts for a 22% of UK GDP backs this figure.

Whilst this is the trend, however, the current demographics of the UK tell a different story. We saw that the UK enjoys a more even distribution of population, with large population clusters in different areas. What is the issue if current population is evenly distributed but the trends and latest census tell us that there is effectively a great migration South?

From Intern Avenue, we think that the issue is in the graduate job market and current mindset. It is paradoxical that whilst many students are willing to move out to different regions of the country to study at university, they automatically start looking towards London when it is time to look for a job.

It is also an issue of concern that university towns and cities spread around the country cannot generate the necessary economic activity to keep their graduates in the area. Let’s take one example: the Midlands accounts for 20% of the UK population and currently hosts 352,520 students. However, only 9.8% of the students from our study sample declares wanting to move (or stay) in the area for work. If we then look at the league tables and see top 20 universities such as Warwick, Birmingham, Loughborough or Leicester, the exodus of talent becomes more concerning [4].

Intern Avenue view on the subject

This example highlights that education, job market and therefore the economy should be more tightly coupled. From Intern Avenue, we believe that there are two measures that could have an impact on UK’s demographical issues and job market concentration:

  1. Encourage the paid internship culture in all sectors and layers of the economy. Examples in the technical and financial sectors tell us that interns can have a positive impact and are more likely to perform better in their jobs as graduates. If students while doing their internships and recent graduates can experience the life in the city or the area of their studies, we believe there will be more chances of them consolidating their lives in the region and staying for work. This is one of the reasons why Intern Avenue was born. It is our mission to facilitate the incorporation of students to the job market and make it easier for companies to hire interns and become convinced that their contribution has a powerful value.
  2. Foment the research and knowledge transfer from academia to industry. The examples of Cambridge with the Silicon Fen, and Oxford with Science Vale UK and the telecommunications M4 corridor demonstrates an impressive growth in tech and biomedical research companies spinning out from academia allowing many graduates to stay in the region, and effectively attracting many from the surrounding areas, especially London.


[1] Office for National Statistics, 2013, The distribution of employee jobs by industry across Great Britain. Online

[2] Office for National Statistics, 2014, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, Online

[3] The Complete University Guide, 2015, University League Table 2015

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