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Why students are flocking to this one (still technically) European city

May 27, 2019

The London pilgrimage is almost a rite of passage for many people globally, either as students or early on in their working life. With its thriving food and bar scene, world-class theatre and undisputed status as a global hub for finance and business, it’s no wonder we’re not alone.

The UK capital regularly tops the class in terms of desirability and popularity among students from all over the world. More than 114,555 international students called London home in 2017/18, and university rankings specialist QS proclaims it the best student city in the world.

So what’s all the buzz about?

High-quality schools

A little obvious, yes, but no serious student can overlook the almost unrivalled abundance of great universities calling London home. Only greater Boston, with MIT and Harvard (ranked first and third in the world by university rankings specialist QS) can really beat the UK capital.

But the presence of two of the world’s best universities, University College London and Imperial College London, combined with an incredible 15 other entries in the QS rankings help make the city that gave us gin the highest-ranked university town in the world.

Getting a job

There’s a lot to be said for learning for the sake of learning. But at the end of the day, we all want to finish tertiary education with a degree that’s not just an expensive piece of paper but a key to opening the door to the workforce.

As one of just a handful of truly global hubs, this is an area where London is hard to beat. In 2014, Deloitte found when it came to the world’s top companies London was home to 40 percent of the European headquarters and almost half of Europe’s high-skilled workers.

The spectre of Brexit has been impacting businesses but there’s no arguing the city remains a global employment powerhouse. That’s reflected again in the city’s second spot on the QS rankings behind Tokyo, a ranking heavily influenced by the city’s popularity with international employers.

The students

Thanks in no small part to its status as one of the best student cities in the world, smart and passionate students are queuing up to learn in London. And who doesn’t want to study with the best, brightest, and potentially most interesting people of their generation?

QS has London seventh in the world for student mix, a ranking that takes in everything from the number of students vs non-students in a city, to its scores on inclusion and tolerance and the number of international students in town.

Interestingly, that’s a ranking dominated by Oceania’s universities, with Melbourne and Sydney in the top two spots, followed by Auckland in third and Brisbane in eighth. For the most part, the students who do pick London are loving it. Survey results from more than 50,000 of them put London in equal 12th in a ranking topped by Montreal, Munich, and Melbourne when asked about their experiences and whether they stayed on after study.

The city itself

Don’t tell the parents, but we know student life isn’t all about studying. Away from the books, students want to love and enjoy the city they’re in. The things they see and people they meet outside of school can end up being almost as important as what they pick up in the lecture hall.

Surprisingly, this is one area where London doesn’t fare so well. On desirability, Toronto, Tokyo, Sydney, and Melbourne all rank many places above the (hotly contested) home of fish and chips. In 18th spot on the list, London only just outranks Adelaide, thanks in large part to its low ranking (48th) on The Economist’s Liveability Index.

It’s the most heavily weighted factor QS considers in this category, and a ranking dominated by Australian and Canadian cities. But let’s be honest, the halo around the British centre as one of the world’s top destinations will continue to be a strong lure.


Just when you were falling head over heels with the idea of calling London home for your university days, here comes that dreaded BUT. It’s expensive.

Really expensive.

Study London pegs the cost of a standard room at the university’s own accommodation to be about £135 – £210 a week, jumping up to £160 to £250 for private accommodation. Organising your own private rental, even in a sharehouse, is unlikely to work out much cheaper. And that’s before taking into account the general cost of living, where London ranks 26th in the world.

Restaurants are expensive. Pubs are expensive and even the Tube is expensive. It’s no surprise that London fares poorly in QS’s affordability ranking (82nd out of 100). It’s bested (or worsted?) only by cities in the US, Scandinavia and, you guessed it, Sydney.

Some alternatives

As great as London can be for students, the cost barrier is a big one. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, with many of the same benefits, it’s hard to go past Germany: either Berlin, for its vibrancy and diversity, or Munich, for its central position in one of Europe’s biggest economies.

Of the world’s top 50 university cities (according to QS), only Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Budapest rank cheaper, but the Deutsch hubs offer job opportunities, particularly in manufacturing, engineering, and finance, that the others can’t match. Munich in particular trails only Paris and London on office space, is home to 90,000 students and counts Allianz, BMW, and Siemens among its massive corporations. That’s not to mention the “Munich mix” of mega-successful small and medium businesses.