Local labour market conditions and the spatial mobility of science and technology university students: evidence from Italy

In the knowledge era, the importance of highly-qualified human capital has been widely recognized as a key factor for local economic development, especially for those areas specialized in science and technology (S&T). Assuming a regional perspective, the capacity to attract this kind of people is both a sign of territorial competitiveness and a way to further reinforce this by boosting the quality of the local labour market in a self-reinforcing process. In line with this perspective, universities play a fundamental role because they can attract students from elsewhere, and then provide local firms with qualified workers. On the other hand, this process is particularly detrimental for territories suffering ‘brain drain’. This paper aims to show this process of selective migration in the case of Italian S&T university students. Specifically, we use a spatial gravity model to show that university students move from Southern towards Northern regions to study in S&T universities, and this mechanism is driven by the dynamism of local labour markets, and not just by the quality of universities. In our view, these results are supportive of the hypothesis that skill-biased migration occurs also very early in the lives of migrants, i.e., at the time they choose university.

With Ugo Fratesi, Camilla Lenzi and Marco Percoco, published in Review of Regional Research

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