Combining countryside and cosmopolitan cities, the UK has plenty to please both nature lovers and culture vultures. British filmmakers, actors, musicians, designers and writers are known and respected across the globe, and this is reflected in strong arts and cultural scenes across the country, with a huge range of galleries, museums and venues to match. At the ‘lower’ end of the culture spectrum, you can embrace the national passion for sport (especially football/soccer) or the classic British pastime of just going to the pub.
Universities in the UK are also microcosms of entertainment in themselves, full of opportunities for getting involved in sports, theater, volunteering – and just having a good night out. Most major UK cities and universities are highly multicultural, providing opportunities to get to know not only British culture and people, but also to encounter people and traditions from around the world.
Find out more about some of the UK's top student cities...
Universities in London
London, the UK’s capital city, ranks among the world’s top student cities, and has an impressive 18 universities in the QS World University Rankings®. Home to 10 million people, this vast metropolis is the financial, cultural and political center of the country. London life is extremely fast-paced, so if you don’t like crowds or noise, it might not be the place for you! It has a (deserved) reputation for being expensive, so may also not be the best choice for those on a tight budget – but those who do study in London all agree the city is worth every penny in the opportunities for culture, fun and networking it offers.
Home to many of the best libraries, museums, art galleries, nightclubs and theaters in the UK, and the hub of many of its most competitive professional sectors, London has more to see and do than you’ll have time to get to the end of – even if you stay long enough to complete a PhD. Indeed, there are few places in the world which can guarantee as exciting and diverse an experience – both academically and otherwise.
Among universities in London are several of the world’s best, with Imperial College London and UCL (University College of London) both making the top five in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15. Other top London universities include King’s College London (KCL) (16th) and the social sciences specialist London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) (71=).
Find out more about top universities in London >
Universities in Manchester
Manchester is famed for its music scene – few cities have produced as many prominent bands and acts (such as the Sex Pistols and Oasis) in the past 30 years. Manchester is also home to the Manchester Evening News Arena, the largest music arena of its type in Europe, seating over 20,000 people. The city also has many other major venues for entertainment, most concentrated in the Northern Quarter, popularly considered the cultural and musical heart of the city. On top of this, the area around the Northern Quarter and Manchester itself is awash with over 30 smaller venues, where signed and unsigned artists of all genres perform – keeping Manchester’s music scene vibrant, evolving and an indelible part of the city’s character.
Canal Street, the center of Manchester’s gay community, is one of the city’s liveliest nightspots, and, with more than 500 licensed premises in the city, Manchester is something of a party town – perfect if social life is an important factor for you. But it’s not just about the drinking and the dancing; if you’re a football (soccer) fan, you’re probably well aware of Manchester’s historic sporting reputation. Manchester United F.C. is the most decorated club in the country, while local rival Manchester City F.C. is one of the wealthiest in the world.
There are plenty of university campuses and clusters of student accommodation to choose from in Manchester, and it may be particularly appealing to Chinese students, thanks to its well-established Chinatown area (Manchester has the third-largest Chinese population in Europe). Manchester should also be on your shortlist if you’re a fan of architecture – you’ll find a variety of styles walking around in the city, from Victorian, Gothic and red-brick buildings to contemporary skyscrapers, hotels and apartments, along with the sustainable One Angel Square – one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Among universities in Manchester, the top ranking institution is the University of Manchester (also home to the well regarded Manchester Business School), which stands at the lofty position of 30th in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15. If you want to get more of a feel for the university, you could tune in to its student radio station, Fuse FM, or perhaps listen to MMU Radio, run by students from nearby the Manchester Metropolitan University. Also just outside the city center is the University of Salford, not far from the BBC’s new MediaCity complex, and a cluster of museums and galleries including the Lowry Center and Museum of Science and Industry.
Read a student’s guide to Manchester >
Universities in Birmingham
Now the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham came to prominence during the industrial revolution. Today it is a thriving commercial hub, and home to the UK’s largest shopping area outside of London (which, in the local branch of Selfridges, boasts one of the most striking buildings in the country). Birmingham (or Brum, as it known affectionately by locals) is also one of the most multicultural places in the UK, which means you’ll probably find few cities can offer as varied and colorful a cultural experience.
Birmingham’s six universities also make it the largest center of higher education and academic research in the UK outside of the capital, while the ‘Big City Plan’ is currently underway to make Birmingham one of the top 20 most livable cities in the world within 20 years. Meanwhile, you can enjoy Birmingham’s thriving art, music and literary scenes, including the prestigious City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a range of other cultural institutions.
The highest ranking of universities in Birmingham is the University of Birmingham, ranked 64th in the QS World University Rankings, along with Aston University (ranked within the global top 400) and four other universities including the Open University’s West Midlands regional center.
Universities in Glasgow
It may have lived for many years in the genteel shadow of Edinburgh (which, incidentally hosts the UK’s sixth highest ranking university, the University of Edinburgh), but Scotland’s largest city has in recent years shaken off its former gritty reputation to emerge as one of the UK’s most dynamic up-and-coming cities.
With historic architecture, distinctive local traditions and museums to rival any city in the UK, Glasgow now also has enough trendy bars, restaurants and gig venues to keep even the most hardened hipster entertained (plus the world’s tallest cinema). PETA has declared the city to be the most vegan-friendly in the UK. And, while Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, it is not as overrun by tourists as Edinburgh and has a significantly cheaper cost of living. It is perhaps because of this that Glasgow has the largest student population in Scotland (and the second largest in the UK, after London).
In keeping with the city’s general upwards trajectory, universities in Glasgow have been climbing the rankings in recent years. The University of Glasgow now stands at 55= in the QS World University Rankings, while the University of Strathclyde ranks at 246=.
Universities in Oxford and Cambridge
Yes, Oxford and Cambridge are two separate cities each with a distinct history and character. But these two cities are also bound together in the collective imagination as semi-mythical academic enclaves with a profound historic affinity, as well as an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek rivalry. Both are old medieval towns, built on rivers and situated towards the south of England not far from London, both are relatively quiet and peaceful, and both are completely dominated by their universities – the two oldest in the Anglophone world.
Oxford and Cambridge are both collegiate universities, and their constituent colleges loom large over the city centers, which you’ll also notice are teeming with the bright young attendees (usually on bicycles when they’re not relaxing on the river in a punting boat). While Cambridge is home to a large cluster of high-technology industries such as software and bioscience, earning it the name ‘Silicon Fen’ (a play on Silicon Valley), Oxford has a long history of brewing and has been an important center of motor-manufacturing for years, with the main production site for Mini cars, now owned by BMW, based there.
Both remain among the most famous and prestigious universities in the world, with the University of Cambridge ranked joint second in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15, and the University of Oxford joint fifth. And, of course, to list their notable alumni would have an effect somewhat akin to snow blindness!
Oxford or Cambridge? How to choose >