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Borders hit by exodus of young talent

Young people who want to get on are being driven out of the Borders by lack of training and education opportunities and a low-wage economy. Two-thirds of school-leavers abandon the region to go to college and university or into a better job and many never return, Edinburgh University researchers have found after analysing information from the Scottish Young People's Survey.

Of those at school at the age of 16, only a third lived in the Borders at the age of 19, a third moved to Lothian and the remaining third dispersed mainly to the former Strathclyde, Fife and Tayside areas. Only the Highlands and Islands has a higher migration rate.

Young people who left the area were far better off at the age of 23 than friends who stayed. "By then, some stayers feel discontented and trapped and would like to leave but they lack the training and skills to compete for jobs elsewhere," Gill Jones and Lynn Jamieson say in a Centre for Educational Sociology briefing paper.

Those who stay are usually from local families and work in poorly paid jobs, often in the traditional woollen industry. The region has the highest percentage of low-paid workers in Scotland, with 41 per cent earning less than pound;220 a week.

Students find Edinburgh the most appealing city. It is relatively near and has better incomes, training and career prospects. But commuting is impossible because of inadequate public transport. Young people from middle-class families are more likely to move away.

The researchers say formal guidance in schools does not appear to recognise the dilemmas and tensions involved in the migrate or stay decision, "or the kind of information someone newly independent and in a strange environment would need". They also discovered that many young people felt alienated by the traditional festivals, which "may simply increase dissatisfaction". Drinking and fighting were associated with them. The interviews took place during the conflicts in Hawick over women's place in the Common Riding.

Neil Horne, rector of Hawick High, said there were no surprises in the findings for rural communities. "The study does not take sufficient account of factors other than job opportunities when considering reasons for youth migration. In many cases, the perceived image of a far greater and more exciting range of leisure activities and facilities in more urban areas is another major factor for youth migration," Mr Horne said.

David Blaszk, head of Borders careers service, said he was "aghast" at the way guidance was described. "I would hope we are now providing a service centred on individuals and not merely equipping them for the labour market," Mr Blaszk said.

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