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Great institutions and openness help city retain top spot ahead of rivals such as Tokyo and Munich.
London remains the best city in the world to be a university student, according to an international ranking of higher education centres that placed it ahead of rivals such as Tokyo, Boston and Berlin.
The capital retained top spot for the third year running despite low marks for affordability, thanks to the presence of world-leading institutions such as Imperial College and King’s College London, and high ratings for its openness to international students and graduate career opportunities.
Munich came second, while Tokyo and Seoul were tied for third place ahead of Berlin, Melbourne, Zurich and Sydney. Paris, Montreal and Boston tied for ninth place.
The city rankings created by the education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds are based on its own league tables as well as surveys of 85,000 current and prospective students around the world. They cover cities with a population of at least 250,000 and two or more universities placed in the QS world university rankings.
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The best UK universities 2021 – rankings
Current students studying in London rated the British capital very highly for “outstanding cultural, economic, and educational opportunities”, although the city was only rated 15th – below Auckland and Montreal – for desirability among prospective students.
Ben Sowter, QS’s director of research, said: “With two of the world’s 10 best universities situated in the city, London remains a world-leading educational hub. However, increasing Covid cases and lingering Brexit effects may serve to undermine London’s privileged position.”
Elsewhere in the UK, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester made the top 30 out of the 115 eligible cities. Coventry did extremely well for “student mix”, ranked second only to Melbourne for the proportion of domestic and international students in the local population, as well as tolerance and inclusion.
The highest-ranked US centre was Boston, thanks to the proximity of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. But US cities suffered from high affordability, with Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco the worst overall based on cost of living, tuition fees and the Economist’s “Big Mac” index, which uses the local cost of the hamburger as a proxy for relative costs.
QS also noted that US cities “are suffering from a systemic decline” in their desirability ratings, which includes metrics such as pollution, crime, safety and corruption as well as a student survey.
The most desirable city in which to study was Tokyo, followed by Toronto and Zurich. Boston could only manage 26th, while Durham, North Carolina – close to the high-ranking University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University – was 85th.
Monterrey in Mexico and Almaty in Kazakhstan were rated as the least desirable places to study. The most affordable centre was the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, ahead of Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan in Russia