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It might not quite match the spectacle of the wildebeest in the Serengeti, but anyone spending time on England’s motorways in recent weeks might have noticed a migration taking place. Hundreds of thousands of students have been on the move to start or resume their university courses.

A striking characteristic of higher education in England is the mobility of its students. Previous work by HEFCE has found that the average distance travelled from home to university is between 60 and 70 miles. Using the latest data, we’ve updated our spatial mobility maps to show exactly where they travel to and from.

The maps present data for up to 1.8 million England-domiciled students who studied for a first degree at an English higher education provider in the academic years 2010-11 and 2014-15. The maps are divided into local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and they show how many students stayed in each LEP, how many moved away, and where they moved to.

Where do students go to study?

Roughly a third of students stay in their home LEP for study and two-thirds move away, but this varies substantially across the country.

Students in the North East LEP are most likely to study where they grew up, with 65 per cent staying in their local area. This likely reflects the large size of the LEP, the distance to other parts of the country and the fact that the region is relatively well served with a range of higher education providers.

Londoners are the next most likely to stay locally (58 per cent), which is no doubt a consequence of the abundance of providers located there.

By contrast, those places where few students stay to study locally are either cold spots for higher education provision or are near to London. This includes Thames Valley Berkshire, where 14 per cent study locally, the Marches (14 per cent), Buckinghamshire Thames Valley (16 per cent) and Swindon and Wiltshire (16 per cent).

The Marches Study

And where do they work afterwards?

Of course, it also matters whether students who move away then come back as graduates. The maps can be used to discover this as they show the employment locations for graduates six months after they leave higher education.

Across the whole of England about three in ten graduates leave their home LEP for study, but are back six months after graduating. Again though, this varies considerably by place. Only about a third of those who leave Worcestershire for study are back and in employment six months after graduation. In Cumbria almost half of those who leave subsequently come back.

England’s largest cities have big inflows of students, but the rates at which they are able to retain these after graduation varies. Unsurprisingly, retention is greatest in London with almost three-quarters of students who studied there being employed there after six months. Greater Manchester also fares well with more than half (52 per cent) staying for work, which compares favourably to the city regions of Leeds (46 per cent), Liverpool (45 per cent) and Sheffield (37 per cent).

In general though, the big cities tend to do better at retaining graduates than other places. In Oxfordshire, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Leicester and Leicestershire roughly three-quarters of graduates move to be employed elsewhere.

Is mobility affected by the subject studied?

Students and graduates in some subject areas are more mobile than others. Often this reflects that those with higher levels of attainment prior to entering higher education are typically more mobile, and so those in more selective subjects are more likely to move. For example, only 10 per cent of physics and astronomy graduates in the North East find employment locally compared to 60 per cent of those with degrees in sports science.

However, the maps also show the importance of local provision for producing workers in key public sector occupations. Graduates in subjects such as nursing and education are on average more likely to find work locally. In the North East, 78 per cent of those who studied for a degree in education and 73 per cent of those who studied for a degree in nursing were working locally six months later.

These maps give a detailed picture of student and graduate mobility. We hope they will be a useful resource for those working in higher education, those concerned with local and regional public policy … and maybe even those planning which motorways to avoid on October weekends.

Explore HEFCE’s student mobility maps