What Makes a Great Student City? | Top Universities

What Makes a Great Student City?

By Jane Playdon

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

The QS Best Student Cities (new edition coming soon, on 20 November) lists the world’s top 50 cities for students. This lighthearted ranking aims to help internationally minded students choose a destination, providing insights into each city’s strengths and weakness.

Of course the answer to the question “What makes a great student city?” depends on your own priorities and interests, but for the purposes of the Best Student Cities index, 14 indicators are used, grouped into five equally weighted categories:

  1. Top universities – The first category assesses the quality and quantity of universities in the city, using data from the QS World University Rankings®.
  2. Student community – The second category assesses the size of the city’s student community, and how internationally diverse it is.
  3. Quality of living – This is based on data from the Mercer Quality of Living Survey and the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) index.
  4. Employment prospects – This is based on QS’s global survey of employers, giving an idea of which cities’ graduates are most in demand.
  5. Affordability – Finally, this category gives an idea of the costs students can expect to incur, based on tuition fees, retail prices and general living costs.

See the full methodology here > 

These criteria may seem reasonable enough – but all these painstakingly compiled figures would be meaningless if it turned out all students really cared about was the quality of the nightclubs or the ratio of coffee shops per capita. So we ventured out to ask them what they think makes a great student city – and here’s what they said. (Considering all the students we spoke to were studying in central London, it’s unsurprising that a lot of them picked the UK capital as their top student city!)

How important is location when deciding where to study?

One of the trends that emerged was that many students said that when deciding where to study, they chose a university first, and then researched the location afterwards – especially in the case of highly ranked universities. However, the location did remain an important factor for even the most dedicated students.

Scott Yong, 27, studying for an MSc in Neuroscience at University College London (UCL, ranked 4th in the world this year) said he was attracted by the research, and in particular by the university’s Institute of Neuroscience, which is “really famous”.  So the attractions of the city itself were only “part of the reason” for his choice.

Likewise Nina Hong, 27, studying for an MA in Fine Arts at UCL, was also clear about her priorities, saying that she picked the university first, because of its high ranking.

Even so, both said London would be their top choice of student city, regardless of the institution. Scott said he appreciated the multicultural nature of the city and was interested in its history, while Nina added: “London is the best city to study art, because there are so many institutions and galleries.”

What’s the importance of a large student community?

Cities with a large student community tend to be well set up to support and welcome students – in terms of academic resources, but also factors such as the availability of student accommodation, support services for new students, and of course lots of student-focused activities, sports and nightlife.

With this in mind, the Best Student Cities includes a category focusing on each city’s student community, including both its overall size and also how internationally diverse it is. The students we spoke to in London did speak about how well equipped the city is for students.

For example, Albertine Fox, 30, doing a PhD in French Film at Royal Holloway University, said the main reason behind her decision to study in London was the quality of the city’s academic resources and facilities. “I come here [UCL] a lot to use the library… and Senate House Library, all the different libraries around London… the British Library is very handy as well.”

What else makes a great student city?

All the students we spoke to agreed that affordability is an important factor when deciding where to study – and yet the relatively high costs of living in London had not deterred them from studying here. While all would’ve liked to be spending less, affordability had taken second place to considerations such as quality of education, facilities and employability after graduating.

Carme Ventayol, 23, studying for a Masters in Cultural Industries at Birkbeck, said: “It costs a lot of money here, compared to Spain where I did my undergraduate degree. But on the other hand, I expect more for my money.”

Some students said they’d deliberately chosen to study in a large city, after growing up in a quieter environment. Orkham Akbarob, 19, an undergraduate student of international management at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), said he chose to study in London before picking a specific university, because of its size, shopping and nightlife. “It’s truly important for me because I cannot study in a small city. I did my foundation [degree] in Bristol, and I couldn’t stay there. It was really boring.”

Carme agreed, saying: “I come from a small town in Majorca, and it’s very different. I was looking for something bigger and with more going on. There’s not much going on in Majorca.” Given the choice to go anywhere, she would prefer to study in Los Angeles, because of its “innovation and creativity” in her area of study, and its research strengths.

So, while the QS Best Student Cities cannot cover every single motivation for studying in a particular city, the students we spoke to all mentioned factors that are covered within, either directly or as part of a broader category. Paris topped the last edition – check back on 20 November 2013 to see which cities will make the top 50 this year!

What do you think makes a great student city? Share your opinion in the comments below.

This article was originally published in November 2013 . It was last updated in March 2016

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Written by

Jane Playdon is a TopUniversities.com author and blogger.


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