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As the British general election campaign reaches its climax this week, polls show that concern about the arrival of foreign nationals looking to settle in the UK will be a key issue on many voters’ minds.

However, data compiled for the Financial Times Global MBA rankings reveal that a major problem is retaining the most talented individuals, coming from overseas to study at the UK’s top business schools, such as LBS and Oxford Saïd.

A survey of MBA students who graduated in 2011 shows that a third of those from overseas still work in the UK three years later. This compares poorly with countries such as the US and Canada, where half and two-thirds respectively of foreign students are still employed locally. The retention rate for graduates of Masters in Management and Master in Finance is even less at about 25 per cent.

All the main UK political parties have pledged to curb the numbers of low-skilled workers coming to the country in search of employment.

But less had been said about the loss of highly skilled migrants, who acquire their knowledge at UK academic institutions. Financial services and consultancy are the two sectors that benefit most from taking in foreign graduates and employ 55 per cent of those who stayed in the UK.

The UK’s business schools are among the most international in the world: 1,400 students from 100 countries accounted for 90 per cent of all MBA students enrolled in 2014. The main countries of origin are India, the US and mainland China. Overall, 87 per cent of students were from outside the European Economic Area.

A degree from a reputed UK business school is not their only motivation. “[My MBA] has given me access to the UK market, and provided me with a strong network in London and all around the world,” said a graduate from Canada.

“I didn’t want to ship straight back home,” said another, who returned to Sri Lanka to take care of the family business after gaining work experience in the UK.

Nearly half — 45 per cent — of foreign students from the class of 2011 found work in the UK immediately after graduation, while another 40 per cent returned to their home country. The remaining 15 per cent moved to a third country. Those who opted for the latter went principally to the US, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. Three years later, the percentage of those still employed in the UK fell to a third.

Critics point the finger at the UK’s visa regulation, which requires students from outside the EEA to find an employer willing to sponsor them to work in the UK.

However, despite the UK outperforming its European counterparts in 2014, only 38 per cent of students from the EEA remained in the UK, the same percentage of those who returned to their own countries. Still, while 62 per cent of German students went home, only 16 per cent of French students did so.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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