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Top 10 Student Cities in Emerging Economies

Top 10 Student Cities in Emerging Economies main image

You may already be well acquainted with the QS Best Student Cities index, which lists the top cities for students the world over. But how many great student cities can you name outside of the US, UK, Australia and Western Europe? How about top student cities in countries classed as emerging economies?

Looking at the QS university rankings dedicated to Latin America, Asia and the BRICS countries, this list aims to give the great student cities within emerging economies – such as the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the MINT nations (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) – the credit and attention they deserve!

If you think we’ve missed any great student cities within emerging economies, tell us in the comments below.


Population: 21,150,000

Top attractions: The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City

One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China and also sometimes romantically known as Peking, Beijing is the current capital city of China, well established among the world’s fastest-growing emerging economies of the last few decades. As an ancient capital, dating back three millennia, it’s hard to find a building or landmark in Beijing that isn’t of historical and cultural importance. Cycle through the city like a local, discover the city’s imperial history and try some great Peking duck.

Top universities in Beijing include Tsinghua University (1st in the BRICS ranking) and Peking University (2nd in the BRICS countries ranking).


Population: 24,150,000

Top attractions: The Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai Museum

Shanghai, Beijing’s southern rival, may not be the capital but is in fact the largest city in China and the largest city by population in the world. Native to Shanghai is the Chinese dialect of Shanghainese and the largest bus system in the world (with 1,424 bus lines). Shopping is another draw to the city, and some of the best shopping centers in Asia are in Shanghai, as well as popular markets such as the Nanjing Road Market.

Top universities in Shanghai include Fudan University (5th in the BRICS ranking) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (8th in the BRICS ranking).


Population: 12,111,194

Top attractions: St. Basil’s Cathedral, Peter the Great’s statue and the Lenin Mausoleum

Whether it’s the architecture, political history or current culture you want to marvel at, life in Moscow will be an incredible experience. The city gives never-ending opportunities to rediscover its own history, whether within the numerous museums or looking upon the tombs and shrines of historical figures, both political and cultural.

Top universities in Moscow include Lomonosov Moscow State University (3rd in the BRICS ranking) and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University, 35th in the BRICS ranking).

Mexico City

Population: 8,874,724

Top attractions: Angel of Independence, Pyramid of the Sun and the National Museum of Anthropology

When thinking of Mexico City you might be inclined just to think of smog and bureaucracy, but the Mexican capital makes up for this with a thriving economy and a prominent dedication to arts and culture. Mexico City has 160 museums (the most of any city in the world), 100 art galleries, 30 concert halls and the fourth highest number of theatres in the world after New York, London and Toronto. Weren’t expecting that, were you?!

The top universities in Mexico City are the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM, 8th in the Latin American ranking) and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN, 26th in the Latin American ranking).


Population: 5,743,719

Top attractions: Cerro San Cristobal (for the view!) and Parque Quinta Normal

Although often overlooked amidst the plethora of exotic cities in Latin America, the capital of Chile, Santiago, is one of the cleanest and safest of Latin American cities. Santiago’s location between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean makes the city a great place for adventurers and fans of great views. The city has no shortage of arts and culture either!

Santiago boasts the highest ranked university in Latin America this year, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC), as well as the Universidad de Chile, ranked 6th in Latin America.

Buenos Aires

Population: 2,890,151

Top attractions: The Cementerio de la Recoleta and Casa Rosada

Despite the heated passion suggested in the local language, national dance and football fanaticism, Buenos Aires benefits from a much milder climate that you may think (the annual average temperature is 18°C/64.4°F), making the Argentinean capital warm but not stifling. Wine, beef and milongas (tango nights) are staples for porteños (the name given to locals).

The highest ranked universities in Buenos Aires are the Universidad de Buenos Aires (19th in the Latin American ranking) and Universidad Austral (20th).


Population: 8,357,000

Top attractions: The National Palace Museum and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Park

Where can you shop for books, drink coffee and sing karaoke 24/7? Taipei, that’s where. It’s this eclectic, never-sleeping lifestyle that makes the capital of Taiwan a brilliant city to study. Whether you’re drawn in by the free WiFi, the annual Beef Noodle Soup Festival, or the fact that there are toilet-, prison-, Barbie- and hospital- themed restaurants, Taipei will welcome you with strange, open arms.

Among the top universities in Taipei are the National Taiwan University (NTU, 21st in the Asia ranking) and Taipei Medical University (46th).

Cape Town

Population: 3,740,026

Top attractions: Table Mountain, Cape Point Nature Reserve and the Castle of Good Hope

Cape Town is packed with adventure both within its own boundaries and in the opportunities to explore the local vicinity. Visitors are able to discover secret beach coves, marvel at the penguins on Boulder’s Beach, explore apartheid history on Robben Island, sift through markets for traditional South African art, all the while getting to know Cape Malay and African cuisines. Cape Town is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Top universities in Cape Town include the University of Cape Town (9= in the BRICS ranking) and the University of the Western Cape (92nd).

São Paulo

Population: 11,821,873

Top attractions: Mercado Publico Municipal, Marco Zero and Pateo do Collegio

Brazil, the nation of carnival, football and nightlife, offers up São Paulo, the biggest city in South America. This city throbs with 24-hour clubbing, vibrant live music and terrible traffic. Of São Paulo’s cultural attractions, the mixed architecture of downtown, the shops of Rue 25 de Março, the greenery of Parque Trianon and the art of Museu Afro Brasil are all must-sees.

Top universities in São Paulo include Universidade de São Paulo (7th in the BRICS ranking; 2nd in the Latin American ranking) and Universidade Federal de São Paulo (32nd in the BRICS ranking).


Population: 11,007,835

Top attractions: Humayun’s Tomb, Bahai Temple and Jama Masjid

Regardless of the chaotic streets and madman traffic, Delhi remains a city renowned for its spirituality. Delve into the rich culture of India’s National Capital Territory by snacking on Dilli-ki-Chaat (local street food) and getting lost in the bazaars of Old Delhi, before winding down and listening to qawwalis (religious songs) at sunset, and ending the day taking in the tranquility at the Tomb of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi.

Top universities in Delhi include the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD, 13th in the BRICS ranking) and the University of Delhi (39th).

Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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