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Graduate prospects are improving, but some may already have left Britain for good

The UK's graduate job market is getting better, but Britain may already have lost a selection of its most talented youth to foreign climes.

Graduate prospects are rising, but for some it's too late
Graduate prospects are rising, but for some it's too late. Photo: Christopher Furlong, Getty

Finally some good news for British graduates: employers expect to hire 18 per cent more university leavers this year as the economy continues to strengthen.

The bullish prospects for the graduate job market were revealed in an annual report by employment researcher Incomes Data Services (IDS) and will come as a boost to recent university leavers and students sitting finals this summer.

For many of those who graduated in the depths of the recession over the past few years, however, the upturn has come far too late. Certainly many of my peers have given up on gunning for an elusive graduate job in Britain, deterred by relentless rejection. With more than 60 applications for every vacancy last year according to IDS, you can hardly blame them.

Abandoning a fruitless and demoralising job hunt in the UK rarely means neglecting the search altogether, however: the favoured solution for many graduates has been simply to hop abroad. Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency last year reveal that one in ten British graduates emigrates for work.

The general trend towards emigration certainly appears to be on the rise in the UK. Statistics published by the Office for National Statistics last summer indicate that the number of UK citizens flocking abroad each year has increased by a fifth under the Coalition, to reach 154,000 a year. The trend for emigration among Brits is clearly an upwards one, and the brain drain appears strongest among recent graduates.

So where are young Brits relocating? As the economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany is a natural option for many British émigrés. Boasting a strong economy and a youth unemployment rate of just 7.7 per cent, according to the latest figures released by Eurostat last month, opportunities are far more plentiful than in the UK. The start up culture in Berlin, in modern times a thriving tech hub, holds a particularly strong draw for cyber savvy grads.

Even more enticing than that, however, is the comparatively cheap cost of living. Rental prices in London are a staggering 175 per cent more expensive than in Berlin, according to city price comparison site Numbeo. Eating out in London is 50 per cent more expensive, and groceries 30 per cent more costly, than in Berlin. The nub of it is that you can afford to have a much better time on a far lower wage in the German capital than in the British one.

That, in essence, seems to be the key to the British trend of graduate emigration: a better quality of life overseas for less money. The analogy does not only hold true for Berlin, where the rental market is especially cheap and the job market strong. Young Brits are also heading to southern European nations with weaker economies, because whether or not they can win better jobs, they can certainly live more pleasant lives in countless Mediterranean destinations.

With unemployment among 15 to 24 year olds higher than 50 per cent in Spain, according to Eurostat, promising career opportunities may look scarce, for example, but at least the rent and sangria are cheap in most Spanish cities (compared to the UK) and there is the glamour of sunshine and the excitement of new experiences.

Of course working behind a bar may not have been the dream while reading, say, anthropology at Durham, but at least doing it in an exotic new environment abroad beats being stuck in Blighty, having moved back in with your parents.

Start-up costs for a new life abroad can be as low as you are dare – no one could call it lavish to buy a one-way flight on a low-cost airline and book a stranger’s sofa via Couchsurfing. Europe's open border policies also make the bureaucratic element of moving abroad a doddle in most instances.

The emigration trend is unlikely to reverse soon, because young Brits do not appear to recognise that their career prospects are improving at home. According to a recent survey by Small Earth, a youth travel and work organisation, perception of the job market in Britain remains poor, with more than half (54 per cent) of young people deeming the UK job market “bad” and less than 30 per cent ranking it as “good”.

Almost all of my friends who have moved abroad are having a thrilling time, with few planning to return home anytime soon. It makes me wonder, will the generation of graduates who have sought their fortunes abroad end up returning to British shores at all?