For many years small towns and cities have suffered as their young university graduates move out of their hometowns and into the big city. With recent studies showing that fewer people are moving to cities to pursue their careers during the pandemic, many are optimistic that the effects of the brain drain are being reversed. If there is one good thing to come of COVID-19, then perhaps this is it.

Migration halted for graduates

Studies show that 1 in 3 university students move to London to find a job after they graduate. This mass migration of the educated class has huge implications on regions across the UK. Many young graduates feel like they will have limited opportunities if they stay local and often feel like they have no choice but to leave their families and communities behind to fulfil their careers.

Brain drain has huge effects on London locals too, many of which suffer the consequences of gentrification as university graduates move into their local areas, drive house prices up and change the social and cultural make-up of their communities.

The events of the past year have prompted many young professionals to reconsider their career paths.

The pandemic has changed people’s opinions

The mass spreading of the virus and recent lockdowns have changed the way people view city living. Suddenly, the prospect of living in a bustling city seems unhealthy. The idea that a lockdown could force you to stay in a tiny apartment with no garden makes the city seem claustrophobic to those who may have been attracted to it beforehand. More young professionals are switching out big cities and searching for opportunities in other regions.

Remote working: Is it here to stay?

The introduction of remote working and the likelihood of remote hybrid working environments becoming the new normal has provided greater flexibility than ever before. People can live and work in almost any location. It has prompted a sudden trend for people moving out of urban areas and into spacious houses in smaller towns where the house prices are lower.

Britain is not the only one reversing the effects of brain drain during the COVID-19  crisis. Australia’s admirable response to the pandemic has prompted many of its ex-pat community to return home. It is estimated that almost 400,000 Australians returned home during the pandemic last year.

Often returning from large cities, these educated ex-pats are reintegrating into their old communities and applying their skills in their own country. This change comes after years of Australia losing its educated citizens to international opportunities.

Will the vaccination reverse brain drain?

In the US, a new factory responsible for the production of the Pfizer jab is helping to reverse the brain drain in the old manufacturing town of Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo was the highest-ranking town in Bloomberg’s 2020 Brain Drain Index. They hope that the factory will provide job opportunities and attract young professionals as they leave big cities during the pandemic in search of more space and cheaper costs of living.

Will these trends continue after the pandemic?

As cities become less desirable during the pandemic, more talented workers are taking advantage of the opportunity that remote working provides. They are leaving their large cities and returning to the communities they left behind to be close to loved ones and benefit from more spacious and less expensive housing options. 

This recent trend is helping to reverse the damage that the brain drain has caused in recent years. The big question on everyone’s lips is, will these trends continue when the pandemic is over?

When offices switch to a hybrid system, requiring workers to travel to the office at least on some occasions, will people still want to live further away from the city? When the rest of the world catches up and the threat of the virus significantly drops, will the returned Australian ex-pats remain in their home country or will they head straight back to their international lifestyles? Will one factory be enough to pull young professionals back into the streets of Kalamazoo?

Whether this reverse brain drain effect is permanent or not remains to be seen, but it is definitely food for thought.