Brexit risk of losing the best and brightest graduates working in British industries

Graduates from the European Union are among the highest achievers from UK universities. They are more likely to gain a first class degree than their British classmates – and represent a valuable resource to the UK as a highly qualified graduate workforce, with the highest levels of postgraduate qualifications, according to a new analysis from the Economic and Social Research Council Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (MiSOC) at the University of Essex.

The research, by Dr Renee Luthra and Greta Morando, examined data from the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education, a survey following the paths of over 2 million leavers from UK universities six months after graduation. They found that of those living in the UK, the European Union undergraduates are nearly 50 per cent more likely to obtain a first class degree, are the least likely to be unemployed, more likely to be in a graduate job, more likely to be earning a higher salary and much more likely to continue on to postgraduate study.

The analysis highlights the important role of graduates to skilled professions, with a ‘leave vote’ likely to impact not only higher education enrolments but also the supply of high performing undergraduates and postgraduates in the British labour market. EU domiciled students comprise one in twenty undergraduates, and a further one in ten postgraduates, including more than 10,000 graduate and postgraduates every year in STEM fields alone.

The study found that European Union students did better than their British peers graduating from the same universities, with the same marks, in the same year and in the same subjects. They were more than twice as likely to continue on to postgraduate courses in the UK than their British friends and those from EU15 countries who went into the workplace were earning on average 9 per cent more than their British peers, just six months after graduation. They are more likely to get a first class degree in the industry-needed STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects than the British students studying the same subjects.

Dr Renee Luthra said: “The European Union students at UK universities are clearly the best and the brightest in their class – on the whole their achievements outstrip their British classmates and they represent a significantly well-qualified group of graduate workers entering the UK workforce. This is especially true of undergraduates, as those EU students who study and remain in the UK to work are very high performing. These top class undergraduates will be having a very positive impact on UK industry.

Although EU students make up only 5 per cent of the undergraduate population studying in UK universities, they are twice as likely to continue onto post-graduate study as their British friends and make up a substantial part of our postgraduate population – nearly one in eight of all research students are from the European Union. Of those in postgraduate research degrees, two-thirds are studying STEM subjects of vital importance to the UK economy. The uncertainty surrounding a vote to leave the EU would almost certainly reduce the flow of these high performing students, particularly in the short term transition period.”

Notes to editor

  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.

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