Click here to discover the most affordable cities for students in 2016.
Looking for a study destination that will offer high-quality education and a rich social life without breaching your budget? The QS Best Student Cities index assesses the affordability of the world’s top 50 cities for students, based on the combined costs of tuition fees and general living expenses.
Below are the top 10 most affordable cities for students in 2015 – all offering at least two internationally ranked universities, plus ample opportunities for exploration beyond the classroom (click on each city name for more details).
Ranked 25th overall in the QS Best Student Cities 2015, the Taiwanese capital owes its strong affordability rating to relatively low international tuition fees (an average of US$3,800 at its eight internationally ranked universities), combined with reasonably low living costs. Ranked 61st out of 214 cities in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey (#1 being the highest cost), Taipei is still not exactly the cheapest place on Earth to live – but if you want world-class universities and an exciting urban playground, this is a pretty good deal!
Sharing the top spot with Taipei is Mexico’s huge and fascinating capital, which claims the final place in this year’s top 50 student cities overall. Like Taipei, it has eight internationally ranked universities, at which fees for international students are just a little higher – an average of US$4,000 annually. However, overall living costs are likely to be a little lower, especially when accommodation is considered. Mexico City comes 150th in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, 89 places lower than its East Asian counterpart.
Germany is one of the world’s most popular study destinations – now hosting more international students than any nation other than the US and UK – so it may be surprising to find its trendy federal capital listed among the most affordable cities for students. However, as across the rest of Germany, public universities in Berlin offer education free of charge, for both local and international students. Berlin’s general cost of living is also much lower than you might expect; at 68th in the Mercer survey, it’s well below most other Western European capitals.
Tied with Berlin is the culturally rich capital of Germany’s south-eastern neighbor Austria. Higher education in Austria is free for EU students, with very modest fees charged to those from non-EU countries. Based on the two internationally ranked universities in Vienna, you can expect to pay around US$500 per year. Living costs are a little higher – Vienna comes 32nd out of 214 in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey – but still lower than in many of the world’s other top student cities. For a snapshot of daily costs, The Economist’s Big Mac Index puts the cost of a Big Mac at US$4.56 in Vienna, compared to $5.25 in Paris, for instance.
A second highly attractive choice for those keen to study in Germany, Munich again offers the added bonus of higher education minus the tuition fees. Compared to Berlin, local living costs are likely to be a little higher in this affluent Bavarian hub of finance, football and the world-famous beer festival, Oktoberfest. But thanks to the absence of fees, Munich is still well up there among the most affordable cities for students – as well as being one of the most happening places to study in Germany.
Combining the neon lights, games scene and 24/7 feel of Japanese city life with a somewhat more relaxed side, Osaka constitutes a more affordable alternative to the likes of Tokyo and Kyoto, which it joins in the QS Best Student Cities this year. Osaka is still towards the upper end of the Mercer Cost of Living Survey (23rd out of 214), but considerably more affordable than Tokyo (the world’s 7th most expensive place to live, according to Mercer). This also applies to tuition fees; at internationally ranked universities in Osaka, international students are charged an average of US$5,000 per year, compared to $7,700 in Tokyo or $9,000 in Kyoto.
Fourth among the most affordable cities for students in Europe is the artsy, foodie, party-loving Spanish capital, which comes 39th in the overall QS Best Student Cities 2015 (joint with Finland’s Helsinki). At the four internationally ranked universities in Madrid, international students can expect to be charged an average of US$2,000 per year, keeping the city well towards the lower end of the global tuition fee scale. Madrid comes 63rd in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, putting it somewhere in between Taipei and Berlin for overall living expenses.
Hot on the heels of its fellow Spaniard is beautiful beach-side Barcelona, renowned for its stunning architecture and wild nightlife. As the home of Spain’s two highest-ranked universities, Barcelona beats Madrid in the overall Best Student Cities index, but scores one point lower in the affordability category. While it’s lower down in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey (71st, eight places behind Madrid), average tuition fees are a little higher. At the five universities in Barcelona featured in the QS rankings, international students are charged an average of US$2,500 annually.
Back in Latin America, Chile’s cool and cultured capital city emerges as the region’s second most affordable city for students, largely thanks to relatively low living expenses. At 88th in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, it’s undoubtedly among the most affordable cities included in the QS Best Student Cities top 50. This offsets the fact that tuition fees are somewhat higher than those encountered at most of the other cities listed here; at the five internationally ranked universities in Santiago, international fees are an average US$7,500 per year.
Finally, back to the heart of Europe, where the attractive and historic capital of the Czech Republic offers even lower living costs than Santiago, coming 92nd in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey. At the city’s three internationally ranked universities, international fees amount to an average US$7,000 per year – not a negligible amount, but certainly at the affordable end of the spectrum when viewed in the context of fees charged in many of the world’s most-coveted study destinations.
To find out more about universities and life in each of these cities, click on the city names above – and for even more of the world’s most affordable cities for students, visit the QS Best Student Cities index.