London tops QS best cities for students in 2018

By Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS

University College London, Flickr

Brexit is no longer a liability for British universities. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the company behind the World University Rankings, released their fifth annual QS Best Student Cities index on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, with London, England at the top for the first time. London replaces Montreal, Canada, who was the top city in 2017, while in the previous ranking Paris, France was the best city. This year sees a decline in North American cities, especially American ones, where President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant policies have become a bigger issue than Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union.

London is home to 17 universities including high ranking top universities; the Imperial College, University College London, the London School of Economics and King's College. A cultural and historical city, London has a high concentration of “museums, theatres, restaurants, and cinemas.” The rich cultural aspect is inviting for students but also increases the opportunities for research. Job opportunities are plentiful and as a diverse international city, foreign students feel welcome. Although London ranked high in all factors except one affordability; the city has a high cost of living but one worth for students.

Ben Sowter, Research Director at QS, commented on their new top city, saying, "The 2018 ranking highlights the enduring quality of the student experience available in London. The city benefits from outstanding employment prospects, more world-class universities than any other city, and enviable lifestyle opportunities. These factors mean that the capital remains a great place to study despite eye-watering costs - as more than 50,000 student respondents to QS's survey have made clear."

Last year’s best city, Montreal, Quebec fell to fourth place this year but still remains the top and only North American city in the top ten. Montreal is still tops for “best overall in student experience, and best city in which to remain after graduation.” Montreal has four universities and 150,000 students. The Canadian city has consistently been in QS’ top eight cities since the ranking started.

In second place is Tokyo, Japan as Asian universities continue to rank higher in world university rankings; Japan moves up from seven. In third place is Melbourne, Australia, moving up two from fifth place the first of two Australian cities in the top ten. In fifth place is former top student city, Paris; the city of lights continues its descent, where last year it was in second place.

In the second half of the top ten is Munich, German one of two German cities in the top 10. Munich moves up to sixth from ninth. The second top 10 German city is Berlin coming in seventh down only one from last year. In eight place is Zurich, Switzerland, who enters the top ten from number 15, along with ninth place Sydney, Australia, moving up from number 13. Rounding out the top 10 is Seoul, South Korea, which moves down from fourth place in 2017.

Despite only ranking at number 13, Toronto, Canada ranks the best in terms of desirability which consists of safety, pollution, and quality of living. Toronto ranks second in Canadian student cities, behind Montreal. Meanwhile, Vancouver, British Columbia falls even out if the top ten to number 17.

American cities fare the worst, with none in the top ten. This is despite the fact that in QS World University Rankings American universities capture nearly all of the top ten including the top four spots. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) topped the ranking, followed by Stanford University, Harvard University in third and the California Institute for Technology (Caltech) in fourth. Although MIT and Harvard are in Boston, Massachusetts, the only American school in the 2017 ranking it falls this year to 14, while the only other American city in the top 30 is New York at number 18. American cities saw declines across the board in “Affordability, Employer Activity, and Student Mix.”

The methodology to determine the list looks at six factors, university rankings, student mix, desirability, employer activity, affordability. A seventh factor was added in 2017, student view, a global “survey of students and recent graduates.” QS surveys 50,000 students, and looks past 489 universities cities, ranking only the top 100.

QS World University Rankings was originally a collaboration between the education and career company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) with the Times Higher Education (THE) to create a world university ranking in 2003. For five years their World University Rankings list was published on THE, with QS supplying the data. In 2010, Times Higher Education decided to break off the partnership and pair up with Thomson Reuters to produce their ranking list. The decision was mostly because of the heavy reliance on using peer reviews to determine the rankings. The QS World University Rankings first appeared in its present format in 2010.

Best Student Cities 2018

1. London 3
2. Tokyo 7
3. Melbourne 5
4. Montreal 1
5. Paris 2
6. Munich 9
7. Berlin 6
8. Zurich 15
9. Sydney 13
10. Seoul 4

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.