Traditional Scottish exports stay at home

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The Independent Online
A flourishing education system, coupled with new initiatives to improve the employment possibilities for graduates, mean that more Scots are working at home instead of moving south or abroad. Philip Schofield examines a healthy job scene.

Generations of Scottish engineers, doctors, vets, administrators and other graduates have exported their skills around the world. More than 50 years ago the English historian Philip Guedella commented: "An Englishman is a man who lives on an island in the North Sea governed by Scotsmen." Looking at today's Labour cabinet, many will share this view.

The success of the Scots is due, at least in part, to the priority given to learning and to Scotland's educational system. At present, 40 per cent of Scots enter higher education, compared with 31 per cent elsewhere in Britain. Moreover, three per cent more Scottish graduates undertake postgraduate study.

Unlike English students, who specialise immediately after their GCSEs, Scots continue to follow a broad curriculum before entering university. The typical Scottish degree course also takes four years, the first being less specialised than in England and Wales. Consequently graduates from Scottish universities have a reputation for the breadth as well as the depth of their learning. Most Scottish students (92 per cent) choose to go to a Scottish university.

However, in spite of the high visibility of Scots graduates elsewhere, the vast majority do not now move away from home. Moreover, they are becoming significantly less mobile. Five years ago around three quarters of Scottish graduates entering work did so in Scotland. Last year 93 per cent did so.

This preference for home is confirmed by a UK Graduate Careers Survey produced by High Flyers Research. In a survey of 12,000 final-year students at 24 universities, most of those studying at English universities gave London as their preferred work location, then the region in which their university is located. Most of those at Scottish universities want to work in Scotland.

Barbara Graham, director of Strathclyde University's careers service, says that "when the economy is generally buoyant, you find a higher proportion of Scottish residents remaining in Scotland. In times of recession you get a bigger outflow."

People will also look further afield if opportunities in their particular area of interest are limited. Outside the universities, relatively little research is done in Scotland. Most UK businesses have their head offices and main R & D facilities in England. Miss Graham comments: "If people are very interested in research and development in the high-tech areas, well qualified candidates prefer to go where they're going to find a good research set-up."

Douglas McEachan at Edinburgh University Careers Service says that "the overall improvement in the graduate employment scene has undoubtedly been reflected in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK." However, he too points out that "the traditional area of difficulty is that on the scientific front. We are a wee bit short of research and development... outside the universities. Industrial research is weaker in Scotland than we would like, so a lot of our best scientists and engineers go down south."

Mr McEachan has monitored trends for a number of years. He says that after the recession of 1982, "the recovery in graduate employment was characterised by all the extra jobs going south and Scotland remaining static." However, following the most recent recession, "Scotland went up with the rest of the UK, which was encouraging."

He also observes that "because we have 11 per cent of the university places in the UK, and only nine per cent of the population, there are no [newly qualified] graduates from England who get jobs in Scotland. Cross-border movement is all one way." However, he says that once the graduates from England have some two years' work experience, a lot come back to Scotland.

With the increasing output of graduates in recent years, there has been much concern over graduate unemployment and under-employment. There have been fears that many graduates would end up in sub-graduate dead-end jobs. Last year Mr McEachan took part in a survey to look at what had happened to all who had graduated in 1992. The level of unemployment not only fell from nine per cent to two per cent, but the numbers under-employed in "rubbish jobs" fell to similar levels.

He says "that was very encouraging. Whereas six months after graduation you always get a fair amount of `temporary unemployment and under-employment'. It takes people a while to get fixed up. Four years later they've all got fixed up."

For historical reasons, the Scots fear being without work. Consequently they are now quick to take measures to limit the effects of recession. The recovery in graduate employment from the recession of the early 1990s may have been assisted by one such measure. Scottish Enterprise funded an initiative, The Scottish Graduate Careers Programme. This involved the collaboration of the careers services in all Scottish universities, including the Open University in Scotland. Its activities included running job search workshops for unemployed graduates, seminars for employers advising them on how to make the best use of careers services, and seminars on starting a business.

The funding eventually came to an end. But as Miss Graham of Strathclyde University explains: "We thought the programme was a jolly good idea, so let's continue it. Having established good networks, and when all careers services have got more students to deal with, it seemed to make sense to continue to collaborate. So we transformed the programme into the Scottish Graduate Careers Partnership." This unique level of co-operation between careers services and employers should help to maintain a healthy graduate employment scene in Scotland.