QS Best Student Cities 2015: Methodology | Top Universities

QS Best Student Cities 2015: Methodology

By Staff Writer

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

**Note: For the methodology to the 2016 edition of the QS Best Student Cities, click here.**

Now in its third edition, the QS Best Student Cities index highlights the world’s top 50 cities for students. It draws on a range of data sources, designed to assess cities in five key areas: universities, affordability, lifestyle, employment prospects and student community.

In order to be considered for inclusion, a city must first meet two prerequisites: a population of over 250,000, and at least two higher education institutions featured in the QS university rankings. In case of doubt, the metropolitan area of a city is considered, both for population metrics and to assess whether an institution qualifies as being part of the city. Current calculations suggest that 116 cities in the world qualify on this basis.

The top 50 are selected based on the methodology detailed below. For the 2015 edition, five new measures have been added; each city now receives a score for pollution, safety, transparency and tolerance, as well as a score based on The Economist’s Global Liveability Ranking. This brings the total number of indicators to 18, grouped into five categories. Each city receives a score for each category, as well as an overall score and rank.

The categories are equally weighted when calculating the overall score. Unless otherwise stated, the indicators are also weighted equally within each category.


This category is intended to take a read of the collective performance of a city’s universities in the QS World University Rankings®. The indicators have been designed to take into account the magnetism of the large numbers of universities found in large cities, as well as lending recognition to the locations of the world’s elite institutions. All indicators in this category carry equal weight.

Institution Count [x2]

A score based on a straight count of the number of ranked institutions in the city.

Indexed Score [x3]

This indicator takes into account the collective performance of all ranked institutions in the city. Points are awarded for each institution depending on what ranking range they fall into:





















 Top Score

This score is awarded based on the position of the highest-ranked institution in the city.


This category is designed to look at the student make-up of the city, both overall and from an international perspective. Cities with higher proportions of students are likely to be better equipped with the facilities students need, while cities with high numbers of international students are likely to be prepared to welcome even more.

Student Population

A simple score based on the number of students at ranked institutions, as a proportion of the city’s overall population.

International Volume [x2]

A score based on the total number of international students studying at ranked institutions in the city.

International Ratio [x2]

A score based on the total number of international students as a proportion of all students studying at ranked institutions in the city.

Tolerance & Inclusion [x2]

This is a new indicator added for the 2015 edition. Of vital importance to many international students is whether the environment in which they find themselves is likely to be hospitable to their own cultural background, lifestyle and personal identity. This score is based on the Social Progress Index, which tracks indicators by country on a variety of aspects, including Tolerance & Inclusion.


This category was previously called “Quality of Living”, but has now been expanded to better assess cities’ overall desirability as locations for international students. While students may be seeking exciting cities rich in opportunity, they (and their parents) are also likely to be concerned about the safety of the locality. A new broader range of metrics has been selected this year in an attempt to better reflect these requirements.

Economist Liveability Index [x7]

A score based on the results of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Liveability Index, released in August 2014.

GaWC+ Score [x3]

A score based on the Globalization and World Cities index (GaWC), compiled at the University of Loughborough. A further boost of up to 20% is applied if the city is included in PwC’s Cities of Opportunity index.

Safety Score [x2]

This score is based on the safety index compiled by Numbeo (the inverse of the crime index), which can be found here. In the few cases where there is no specific data available for a city, the mean of all cities in that country is applied.

Pollution Score

Health and wellbeing are also an important factor for students and their parents, and air quality can vary greatly. This aspect is not highly weighted, but provides an interesting accent in the desirability category. This score is also derived from data gathered by Numbeo. In the few cases where there is no city data available, the mean of all cities in that country is applied.

Corruption Score [x2]

Transparency International produces a well-known Corruption Perceptions Index, which provides insight into the presence of corruption in the public sector – of which higher education is typically a part – by country. This score is included to reflect the fact that international students and their parents may want to be reassured that their fees are reaching the right places.


Domestic Employer Popularity

A score based on the number of domestic employers who identified at least one institution in the city as producing excellent graduates, in QS’s employer survey.

International Employer Popularity [x4]

A score based on the weighted count of international employers who identified at least one institution in the city as producing excellent graduates. Since all of QS’s work is focused on supporting international students and opportunities for mobility, this indicator carries twice the weight of the domestic alternative.


Tuition Fees [x2]

Usually the most substantial outlay for a student, tuition fees are likely to play an increasing role in shaping international student mobility trends over the next 10 years. This score carries twice the weight of the other affordability indicators.

Big Mac Index

A score based on this well-known index of retail pricing in cities worldwide, compiled and published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

IPad Index

A score based on the iPad Index, compiled by Commsec, which compares the price of an iPad in different countries, giving an additional insight into local living costs.

Mercer Cost of Living Index

Hong Kong is a great example of why two third-party indices of affordability have been selected. In Hong Kong, property is at a premium, but food is inexpensive. Hong Kong places as the world’s third most expensive city in the Mercer Cost of Living index, but is the second cheapest country in the Big Mac Index. Combining these different indicators may lead to a more balanced overview for prospective students.


Each indicator is converted into an ordinal by ranking the results and subtracting the rank of each result from the maximum. In some cases the underlying data is slightly reconfigured to ensure comparable application of weights (i.e. tuition fee values are organized into ranges). The resulting scores are combined with the weights shown above (these are relative weights within the category) and scaled to the top-performing city in the category to give a score with a maximum of 100 for each category, which are then summed to produce the final score, out of a theoretical maximum of 500.

The final table will be presented based on an overall score out of 100, showing rank, score, country and city names and scores out of 100 in each of the five categories.

This article was originally published in November 2014 . It was last updated in March 2016

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Written by

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.

Related Articles Last year

Most Shared Last year

Most Read Last year