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

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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.

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  1. As already mentioned in the introduction, there is also the practical advantage of the presence of specific datasets which allow the hypotheses to be tested.

  2. For a comparative analysis across groups, see Dotti et al. (2013).

  3. The distance, in this case, is measured as the arc distance between the centroids of the provinces.

  4. Firms are asked which kind of graduate they plan to hire by distinguishing between 22 categories, which are, however, (originally in the survey) aggregated to the four categories corresponding to those of graduates: S&T, Social Sciences, Humanities, Medicine.

  5. Almost all provinces host one or more campuses; however, many of them only host secondary, ancillary, campuses in which teaching takes place but often the professors do not stay for research, instead preferring to do research in the main campus.

  6. These are empirically determined as those provinces for which the ratio between student in-flows and the resident population is two standard deviations above the national average.


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Correspondence to Marco Percoco.



Table 3 Coefficients estimates (p-value in parentheses)
Table 4 Robustness Checks (p-value in parentheses)

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Dotti, N., Fratesi, U., Lenzi, C. et al. Local labour market conditions and the spatial mobility of science and technology university students: evidence from Italy. Rev Reg Res 34, 119–137 (2014).

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