Britain faces "brain drain" as jobs dry up

LONDON Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:57am EST

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LONDON Nov 12 (Reuters) - Tired of constant rejection emails, an increasing number of graduates are packing their bags and leaving Britain for job opportunities abroad, raising concerns of a "brain drain."

With more than one in three recent university leavers unemployed, many have gone in search for better prospects and pay in the faster-growing economies of Asia and Australasia.

Jamie Devonshire, 26, graduated from Manchester University in 2008 and moved to Hong Kong two years ago to work for a small investment fund.

"Been here two years now and love it. Weather, lifestyle and job all going well," he said via email from Hong Kong.

Devonshire said he was unlikely to return home soon.

"Currently I don't see any incentive to move back to the UK, job market is weak and property ladder is still next to impossible to get on for first time buyers."

His girlfriend also recently moved to join him and managed to find a much better paid teaching job than she had in Britain.

The number of undergraduates from the UK and EU taking jobs overseas after graduating from British universities has increased by 25 percent since the start of the economic crisis in 2008, according to data requested by Reuters from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

When adjusted to look only at British students moving overseas there was a rise of 27 percent between 2008 and 2011.

It also showed that more EU students were moving back to continental Europe after their studies, whereas before many would have stayed in Britain.

OXBRIDGE GRADS LEAD THE WAY

The number of graduates leaving the UK from Oxford and Cambridge, traditional breeding grounds of Britain's political and business elite, has risen even faster, jumping by 43 percent in four years, HESA said.

Gordon Chesterman, director of the careers service at Cambridge University, said he had not noticed considerable increase in students looking to move abroad but that students were being encouraged to keep their options open.

"We do advocate that students look very carefully at having a plan B and a plan C, and that plan B may well take them into their chosen career in four or five years time".

There has also been a substantial increase in students taking up foreign language courses alongside their degrees, a possible sign of wanting to move abroad, he said.

Asia is the fastest growing location for new graduates, jumping by 51 percent over the period. Australasia, a long-time favourite for Britons because of the ease of getting a working-visa, was up by 49 percent.

While the global slowdown has driven up youth unemployment in the EU, with rates in Spain and Greece over 40 percent according to OECD data, countries such as Australia, India and China have maintained more a resilient job market.

SKILLS SHORTAGE

The recent rise of British professionals moving abroad has alarmed the Home Office. It said the exodus "may have implications for the availability of skills in the UK" in a separate research report published last week.

The vast majority of people leaving the UK did so to take up a new job or look for one, with 89 percent of emigrants from 2008 to 2010 being of working age.

Last year, 72 percent of emigrants from the UK, who provided a reason, moved for work-related reasons, the report said.

"Looking around at the London pool of young graduates and the labour market around that, I realised that moving abroad was going to be an absolute necessity", Isabel Crabtree-Condor said by phone from Uganda, where she is a development consultant.

Crabtree-Condor, 26, graduated in 2009 with a masters in political economy from SOAS university in London and was working two jobs before choosing to move abroad.

The last job she was shortlisted for in the UK had over 600 applicants, she said. From her class of about 100 students only "five or six" had managed to find work in Britain.

"I've benefited hugely (from the move)," she said.

Projects Abroad, a company that offers placements in a variety of different work overseas, has felt the impact of this increase in graduates moving abroad.

Traditionally more oriented towards charity work, the company has seen vocational internships rise to 30 percent of overall sales, from 7 percent, in the past five years. China is the most popular destination for these business placements.

"Quite often a big part of the trip is to say, when I come back is there going to be an extra bit on my CV, to say well yeah this guy's worth employing", said Ian Birbeck who runs the company's press department.

Research by Warwick University into graduates in the UK published last Wednesday, reinforced the sense of gloom, reporting that one in 10 recent graduates have experienced significant spells of unemployment.

The report said 40 percent of recent graduates are working in lower-paid jobs that do not require a university degree.

Tori Peel-Yates, 26, who graduated from Leeds in 2009 and decided to move to Belgium a few months ago for a traineeship at the European Commission, said the job opportunities there were better than in the UK.

"I was fed up with writing job applications and receiving rejection after rejection, or no response at all."

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