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Eight Best Student Cities in the UK

By Sabrina Collier

Updated February 20, 2021 Updated February 20, 2021

Click here to view an updated version of this article, based on the QS Best Student Cities 2018.

The UK boasts the second-highest number of entries in the QS Best Student Cities 2016 index after the US, with eight cities in the ranking. Its capital, London, maintains its spot in the top five, and there are four entries which are either new or have returned after one or more years of absence.

The Best Student Cities index assesses on a number of indicators, including ‘student mix’, ‘rankings’ and ‘employer activity’, which UK universities perform particularly well in. As you might expect, UK cities’ weakest spot is affordability, with the UK known as an expensive place to study abroad. However, this doesn’t dissuade the thousands of new international students which the UK welcomes each year.

Below are the eight best student cities in the UK according to the QS Best Student Cities index – all offering at least two internationally ranked universities, plus a unique study abroad experience (click on each city name for more details).

1. London


The UK capital is ranked as the fifth best student city in the world this year and achieves the strongest score in the index for the ‘university rankings’ category, with an impressive 19 London-based universities currently ranking among the top 800 in the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16 – including two within the global top 10. London also receives a high score in the ‘student mix’ category, which is not surprising considering 300 different languages are spoken here, and 42% of students at the city’s ranked institutions are from outside the UK. London does falter when it comes to affordability, but nonetheless remains a highly attractive proposition; as well as being an academic hub, it’s one of the planet's great centers of culture and creativity, famed for its museums, arts scene, nightlife and diversity.

Discover the top 10 universities in London >

2. Edinburgh


Moving on to Scotland for the next of our best UK cities for students, and the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, is ranked 33rd in the Best Student Cities index this year. Known for its striking castle, historic old town and massive annual events such as the Edinburgh International Festival and New Year’s Hogmanay street party, the city is also home to several of the best universities in the UK. The University of Edinburgh is ranked 21stin the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16 – the sixth-highest UK entry.

Average fees for international students at Edinburgh’s leading universities are slightly higher compared to the other UK cities listed here. However, for undergraduate students from within the EU (except those from the rest of the UK), university fees are entirely subsidized by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). So depending on where you’re from, Edinburgh or Glasgow could be some of the most affordable options in this list. Indeed, Edinburgh has already attracted a large student population, 40% of which are international.

3. Manchester


Ranked 36th in the Best Student Cities index, Manchester offers world-class universities and a fun-packed student culture that gives even London a run for its money. Located in the North West of England, Manchester is especially well known for its music scene, which has produced big-name bands such as The Smiths, Joy Division and Oasis. Today arts, culture and excellent nightlife are all very much in good supply, as are opportunities to explore the rich history of this part of the UK. Like London and Edinburgh, Manchester achieves a strong score for ‘student mix’, and ranks 23rd for ‘employer activity’ (higher than Edinburgh and all of the other UK student cities aside from London), showing that it’s not just an enjoyable place to study, but a city whose alumni are looked upon favorably by employers.

4. Coventry


Although it’s a slightly less well-known option in our list of the best UK cities for students, Coventry should not be underestimated. Ranking at 44th in the Best Student Cities index, this West Midlands city is propelled to this position largely due to the close proximity of the University of Warwick (currently 48th in the QS World University Rankings). Meanwhile the city center is home to the highly reputed Coventry University. Between these two institutions, the area has a very large student population, of which almost 40% are from outside the UK. Coventry also earns a high rating from graduate employers, reflecting both the strong reputation of its universities and the city’s long history of leadership in manufacturing and design. When it comes to culture, Warwick University’s Arts Centre is one of the largest in the UK, and Coventry also has several theatres, art galleries, and large venues for music and sporting events.

5. Nottingham


Next in our list of the best UK cities for students is Nottingham – famous for its connection to the Robin Hood legend, and also growing in prominence for its universities and student scene – it even beats overall leader Paris in the ‘student mix’ category. Ranked the 57th best student city overall and a new entry this year, Nottingham is affectionately referred to as the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ and is also known for being a major sporting center, named the 'Home of English Sport' in October 2015. Not only does the city have a large international student population; its highest ranked university, the University of Nottingham, has branch campuses in Malaysia and China, and has been praised for its international approach to higher education.

6. Glasgow


Scotland’s largest and most populous city, Glasgow is ranked joint 63rd and is home to two universities in the top 250 of the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16: the University of Glasgow, which ranks joint 62nd and the University of Strathclyde at joint 249th. The former is one of the world’s oldest universities, established well over 500 years ago. In recent years, Glasgow has become one the UK’s leading hubs of culture, commerce, research and academia. Like many other UK cities, Glasgow hosts a large number of international students, and therefore achieves a particularly high score in the ‘student mix’ category of the QS Best Student Cities index, providing opportunities for students to meet people from many different backgrounds and cultures.

7. Birmingham


Ranked 66th in the Best Student Cities index, Birmingham is the UK’s second-largest city, located in the heart of England and home to 3.7 million people. From its industrial roots, Birmingham has become a thriving commercial and financial center. It’s also the UK’s largest center of higher education outside London, with five universities, two of which rank among the top 350 universities in the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16. As you’d expect from a city of Birmingham’s size, there is plenty of culture and nightlife to be enjoyed, and its status as one of the UK’s most multicultural cities adds to its diversity and the range of experiences on offer.

8. Newcastle


The UK’s final representative in the Best Student Cities index is hot on the heels of Birmingham in 67th place, and is the largest city in North-East England. It’s diverse, vibrant and welcoming. Named after the Norman castle of the city center (not so ‘new’ anymore!), the city’s history spans from the Roman period, through its time as an important industrial center for coal-mining, engineering and shipping during the 19th century. Newcastle’s aptitude for engineering continues to this day, with award-winning structures such as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. As well as meeting the friendly local ‘Geordies’ whilst studying here, you can expect to meet a range of people from different cultures too – 23% of students at the ranked universities in Newcastle are international.

And an honorary mention:


Although neither Oxford or Cambridge are featured in the QS Best Student Cities index (to be featured, a city must have a population of over 250,000, and be home to at least two universities included in the QS rankings) they deserve an honorary mention due to their international prominence as study destinations. The ‘Oxbridge’ experience remains highly distinctive, steeped in centuries of tradition. Both are old medieval towns, built on rivers and situated towards the south of England not far from London. Relatively peaceful, they nonetheless offer an enriching environment for students, with all the extracurricular activities you could wish for, and no shortage of dedicated student nights. To find out how the two halves of Oxbridge compare, click here

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This article was originally published in December 2015 . It was last updated in February 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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