Best student cities in the world 2021 ranked: from London to Seoul

A QS ranking finds that London is the world's top city for students to live and study in for a third consecutive year

Seoul and Tokyo are among the top five cities for university students, according to a new global ranking released on Wednesday.

The QS Best Student Cities Ranking, compiled by global higher education analysts Quacquarelli Symonds, compared 115 cities on indicators including desirability by students, affordability, diversity and employment opportunities after graduation.

London emerged as the world’s No1 city for students for the third consecutive year but, while the US and the UK previously dominated such lists, this year many Asian cities including Singapore, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Beijing and Taipei were among the 30 best university cities.

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, climbed from 10th position in 2019 to third in the 2022 table.

The ranking is released ahead of the upcoming academic year. The 2021 list was withheld because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the 2022 report, many Asian cities are ranked ahead of American and European cities, including Dublin, which was 39th, Chicago at 41, Birmingham at 46, and Copenhagen at 49.

Tokyo was revealed as the most desirable location for students, with the highest employer activity too. Boston ranked second best for employer activity while Seoul was third.

QS best student cities ranking for 2022

1. London, UK

2. Munich, Germany

3. Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo, Japan

5. Berlin, Germany

6. Melbourne, Australia

7. Zurich, Switzerland

8. Sydney, Australia

9. Paris, France; Montreal, Canada, and Boston, US

To be included in the ranking, each city must have a population of more than 250,000 and be home to at least two universities featured in the most recent QS World University Rankings.

Cities are assessed on a variety of factors, including the collective performance of its universities, diversity of students, desirability in terms of opportunities, pollution level, corruption, safety and employer activity. The list also compiles data from other independent indexes, including Numbeo, The Economist's safe cities and Mercer cost-of-living rankings.

The “student’s view” indicator is based on a student survey, which collected more than 85,000 responses worldwide.

The final rankings table is compiled based on a total score out of 100, which is calculated using individual scores out of 100 for each of the six indicators.

QS best student cities 2018-2022

Madhav Juneja, academic adviser at Crimson Education, a global education consultancy, said the results mirrored a trend of students increasingly choosing to attend universities in Asian cities, which is being helped by a high level of acceptance they receive as international students.

“In terms of accessing employment after studies, a lot of these Asian cities are best suited to serve students on that front,” he said.

“These Asian economies are top emerging ones and political and economical influence is only going to grow in the future.

“Students recognise that employers will place a premium on students who had an Asian education given the importance of markets like China, India and Singapore.”

Mr Juneja said parents were increasingly expressing interest in sending their children to universities in Seoul.

Tuition fees at a university in South Korea are about $5,000-$6,800 a year compared with about $20,000-$40,000 in the United States.

“For families that are price sensitive and are ambitious, these universities give value for money,” he said.

He said that since the pandemic, families have begun to value proximity over the previous trend of predominantly applying to universities in the US and Canada.

Students recognise that employers will place a premium on students who had an Asian education given the importance of markets like China, India and Singapore
Madhav Juneja, Crimson Education

“Families are reluctant to send their children to a place which is a 10-hour flight away and there is more uncertainty involved,” Mr Juneja said.

QS spokesman Jack Moran said it was no surprise that Asian cities were highly ranked because they are some of the world’s top higher education centres, but that “traditional” university cities were still popular with students.

“Seoul and Tokyo are safe, offer great employment prospects, have lots of top universities, and score well for a range of other quality-of-life indicators, including corruption and liveability,” he said.

“However, it is still the case that most international students flock to a few key destination markets, including the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.

“While we have observed an increase in students studying in Japan over the last decade – at least pre-pandemic – this is more a consequence of the rapidly-growing international student market than it is a decline in the popularity of traditional destination markets.”

QS best student cities for 2022 according to main indicators

Mr Moran said that post pandemic, students are expected to want to move to affordable cities containing universities offering high quality of teaching, as well as generous scholarships and student subsidies, and a vibrant student population with plenty of cultural opportunities.

“Countries or locations that are able to open up more speedily to international students will stand a better chance of maintaining desirability,” he said.

“Australia, which is still maintaining strict border closures and has not yet implemented plans to reintegrate international students, is at risk of losing some of its market share to other markets – Canada, in particular.”

Cities in the Middle East featured on the list with Dubai ranked 65th, Abu Dhabi at 92, and Riyadh 96th.

Updated: July 28th 2021, 10:31 AM