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Study Abroad

Best student cities in the world 2019

From London to New York, Sydney to Paris, which city is officially the best to live in as a student? We reveal all...

tokyo and london skylines

Credit: Blue Planet Studio (left), Bucchi Francesco (right) – Shutterstock

While choosing a good university for your course is always important when deciding where to study or do a year abroad, the city you choose to live in is pretty crucial too – especially as you could end up getting a graduate job there when you're finished.

Whether you're after a city with good nightlife or a place with plenty of job opportunities, making the right choice is crucial.

So which cities are best for students? The annual QS Student City rankings have the lowdown.

What are the QS Student City rankings?

globe in front of man typing on laptop

Credit: Brian A Jackson – Shutterstock

The annual QS World University Rankings are considered one the most widely read and authoritative education rankings out there, and back in 2014 they started releasing an annual Student Cities Ranking, too.

Every year they list the top 120 cities that offer the best student experience, based on a number of factors. These are:

  • University rankings – The quality and number of institutions in that city
  • Student mix – The number of students in the city, particularly international students
  • Desirability – How appealing a city is perceived to be, based on things like safety and opportunities available
  • Employer activity – Whether top graduate employers tend to recruit students from the city
  • Affordability – Based on the cost of tuition fees and living costs
  • Student view – The experiences of other students living in that city, collected via an annual survey

While other surveys and rankings tend to focus on the best individual universities, the Student Cities rankings look at the bigger picture and rank cities based on the overall student experience.

In the past, winners have included Paris and Montreal – but which is the latest city to come out on top?

What is the world's best student city?

London city skyline

Drumroll, please... The best student city in the world for 2019 is London – for the second year in a row!

Here's the complete top 20 list of the best student cities in the world:

  1. London
  2. Tokyo
  3. Melbourne
  4. Munich
  5. Berlin
  6. Montreal
  7. Paris
  8. Zurich
  9. Sydney
  10. Seoul
  11. Hong Kong SAR
  12. Toronto
  13. Boston
  14. Vienna
  15. Edinburgh
  16. Vancouver
  17. Taipei
  18. Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe
  19. New York
  20. Singapore.

London gets top marks for its high-quality universities but also scores highly for student experience. If you fancy studying abroad, second-place Tokyo has top-notch 'desirability' as a city, as well as being a prime hunting ground for graduate employers.

Interestingly, only two US cities appear in the top 20 – despite American universities dominating the QS ranking of universities by graduate employability.

A lot of European cities placed towards the top of the table too, including Paris, Munich, Berlin, Zurich and Vienna – and you can even do a free Masters course in some of these!

Australia also did well in the city rankings, with Melbourne in third and Sydney in ninth. It scored particularly highly for having a diverse mix of students and strong desirability.

Already a popular place for UK students to go and study, you can jump on the bandwagon by checking out this guide to studying in Australia.

Fees for international students aren't always cheap, but you could consider doing a year abroad instead!

Best UK cities for students

Edinburgh skyline

As you probably noticed, London and Edinburgh are the only UK cities to make the global top 20. But that doesn't mean they're the only cities in the country to be considered some of the best.

Here are the 10 best student cities in the UK*:

  1. London (1st)
  2. Edinburgh (15th)
  3. Manchester (29th)
  4. Glasgow (39th)
  5. Coventry (47th)
  6. Nottingham (48th)
  7. Birmingham (49th)
  8. Newcastle Upon Tyne (57th)
  9. Aberdeen (64th)
  10. Brighton (83rd)

* World ranking is shown in brackets.

Despite London taking the top spot, the majority of the best UK cities for students are in the North and the Midlands – conveniently also ranked the best places in the UK for nightlife. The UK's second-biggest city, Birmingham – with five universities and over 80,000 students – came in seventh place, beaten by big northern cities such as Manchester and Glasgow.

Other than London, only Brighton represents the South, ranking 83rd in the overall rankings. Across the border, Scotland has three cities in the global top 100: Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

This shows that, despite Brexit uncertainty, the UK's cities are still considered an appealing option for international students – in 2018, research showed that international students contributed £20bn a year to the UK’s economy, with London receiving £4.6bn of that. Meanwhile, Sheffield is the biggest beneficiary of international students in proportion to its local economy.

Nonetheless, the International Student Survey, which received 67,000 responses from prospective applicants, found that 39% of EU students feel Brexit has negatively affected their interest in studying in the UK.

Cited reasons included the fact that Brexit will likely make the UK more expensive to live in, as well as potentially not very welcoming to EU students.

Cheapest places to study in the world

piggy bank wearing graduate cap

One of the biggest considerations for students when it comes to choosing somewhere to study or do a year abroad is the cost. A city might be amazing, but if you can't afford to pay your rent or have a social life, it's not going to be much fun.

Filtering the cities by affordability, these are the top ten cheapest world cities for students:

  1. Budapest, Hungary (43rd)
  2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (29th)
  3. Wroclaw, Poland (108th)
  4. Novosibirsk, Russia (92nd)
  5. St. Petersburg, Russia (66th)
  6. Tomsk, Russia (73rd)
  7. Bangalore, India (81st)
  8. Manila, the Philippines (85th)
  9. Johannesburg, South Africa (78th)
  10. Hsinchu, Taiwan (68th)

* Overall ranking is shown in brackets.

If you're looking for to live as cheaply as possible, you'll have to sacrifice some of the other factors which make cities so student-friendly – none of the cheapest cities feature in the overall top 20.

While Kuala Lumpur has the best overall score of the 10 cheapest cities, as an EU citizen you'll likely get free tuition fees in Hungary – ranked slightly lower than Kuala Lumpur overall, but officially the cheapest world city to study in.

If you're looking to stay at home, the best UK city for affordability is Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (57th in the overall rankings), where you'll also find some of the country's best nightlife.

If you're not sure about studying, why not take a gap year instead? These are the best gap year destinations for travelling on a shoestring budget. 


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