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Northern Ireland brain drain: Just one in three of graduates comes home

BY ANNA MAGUIRE

Concerns are mounting that a growing brain drain of Northern Ireland graduates will deepen without urgent government action.

Just one in three of our graduates are coming home, new figures reveal. Of 2,470 students who went to England, Scotland or Wales to study, 1,550 did not return in 2011/12 – slightly under two-thirds of those who went away.

Just over 900 of the graduates who went away to study during the same period came back to work.

The figures highlight a steady decline in the number of graduates who are returning to work and live in Northern Ireland – 1% less than in 2010/11 and 3% less than two years previously.

Sean Rogers, a former school head who now sits on the Assembly's Education Committee, pointed to a sharp spike in the brain drain from Northern Ireland since his time as a principal.

The SDLP MLA called on the Department of Employment and Learning and universities here to provide a wider range of courses, such as veterinary and accountancy specialities, so students are not forced to study away from home.

It follows a similar call by Carrickfergus veterinary student Hannah McFall earlier this month.

She will travel to the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Kosice in eastern Slovakia to take a crucial second degree in veterinary medicine – after graduating from the University of the West of England with a Bachelor of Science degree in Bio-Veterinary Science.

"Two of my own family did university degrees in Scotland and England and got jobs there," Mr Rogers said. "It really is a worrying trend, particularly if our economy is to be reinvigorated. We need these graduates back."

Figures released yesterday by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) indicate that just 37% of local graduates who had studied in Britain returned home in 2011/12. The department's annual survey tracks the movements of graduates six months after they leave higher education institutions.

It reveals roughly a £4,000 gap in wages between graduates who work here and in other parts of Britain. The average salary for local graduates working here was £18,705, compared to £22,720 for their counterparts in Britain.

However, 88% of graduates from local universities are employed in Northern Ireland. Of those, more than half (65%) are now working in managerial, professional or managerial roles.

A high level of post-graduates are also employed in senior positions. However, 18% of local graduates have opted to continue studying, largely for postgraduate degrees. Salary levels also varied, with a gender gap still in place.

While more female graduates got jobs here than their male counterparts in 2011/12, more male graduates were in the top jobs – 68% of men compared to 63% of women.

Meanwhile, male graduates were on an average salary of just under £21,000, compared to just under £20,000 among females.

Graduates from medicine and dentistry courses were almost guaranteed a job, but graduates of architecture and creative arts registered the highest jobless rates.

Mr Rogers said: "The brain drain is everywhere. It's got a lot worse. There's an onus on DEL and the universities to look into why people are going to universities in England and Scotland.

"There are a number of reasons but one reason is certain specialities, such as veterinary or specialities in accountancy, are only available across the water.

"A member of my family got sponsored to do a PWC accountancy course over the water and then got a job there. There's nothing here that compares to that."

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