An independent think tank is calling on Stormont to urgently address the 'brain drain' that sees 17,500 Northern Ireland students heading to Britain - enough to fill an entire university.
Most of those departing don't return which leaves the local workforce struggling to attract high-paying jobs because it has too few people with degree-level qualifications, and too many with GCSEs or lower.
"Despite all this, the Executive currently does basically nothing to reduce or stop the brain drain. Pivotal is calling for this to change," the think tank said in a report published today.
"University qualifications are important for driving economic growth, but Northern Ireland continues to lose huge numbers of young people to elsewhere in the UK for study and work.
"This has hurt the economy for decades, and will become an even bigger issue as employment trends change, but the Executive has no strategy in place to address it.
"To get ready for global changes in the job market, Northern Ireland needs to retain and regain more of this talent."
The think tank said that, in coming decades, the overwhelming majority of new jobs would require high skills and qualifications, such as degrees, while fewer than 10% would seek people with good GCSEs or lower.
"Without addressing educational migration as part of a broader upskilling strategy, Northern Ireland is missing out on the contribution these graduates could make to a growing economy," it added.
Around 17,500 students from Northern Ireland are enrolled in courses in England, Scotland or Wales - "an entire university's worth of young people" or around two-thirds of the 25,000 students currently at either Queen's University or Ulster University.
While educational migration is common elsewhere in the UK, Northern Ireland does not have an inflow of students to make up for those who leave - around five times as many depart as arrive.
Two-thirds of those who leave don't come home, and this is "compounded by the fact that 15% of graduates from local universities then move to other parts of the UK to find work", the think tank said.
Pivotal director Ann Watt said: "This is not an easy problem to solve. One major factor is likely to be the lack of high-quality, high-wage jobs available in Northern Ireland - a fact that is mutually reinforcing with the brain drain itself because it is harder to attract high-quality jobs when the skills base is low.
"Breaking that dynamic will require a concerted effort but, right now, Northern Ireland is doing little or nothing."
Ms Watt said that Stormont must take urgent action.
"Efforts to understand why the brain drain is happening have been inadequate because of a lack of engagement that asks the young people who move elsewhere why they leave and don't come back.
"The Executive should consider enhanced investment within the knowledge economy as part of a wider economic strategy.
"Northern Ireland is the only devolved nation that has reduced investment in higher education in recent years. Successive budget cuts over the past decade have resulted in a current structural deficit for local universities."
The think tank said that upskilling those who do stay here would unlikely be enough to create a workforce fit for the future.
It noted that a quarter of all working-age adults born here were living in England and Wales, according to the 2011 census.
"The history of conflict and sectarianism has played a part in young migration for decades. However, the effects of any social factors hasn't been properly investigated," the think tank said.
"Over the coming months, Pivotal will carry out primary research asking young people why they leave NI and what would make them want to come back."