QS Best Student Cities 2012

The first global ranking of student cities will be published by QS during February, in response to worldwide demand for more independent information on the locations of the leading universities.

Surveys of international students, in particular, have shown that location is second only to the perceived quality of a university and its courses as an influence on study choices. Until now, however, there has been no specialist global comparison of university cities.

The new QS ranking will compare the major international study locations – those with more than one world-ranked university – from a student’s perspective. Among the 11 indicators will be affordability and employer activity, as well as independent assessments of the quality of living.

Politicians and local business communities increasingly recognise the importance of students to the economies of university cities, while universities themselves focus particularly on international recruitment. Melbourne, for example, conducts regular surveys of international students to establish their view of the city, as well as of their chosen university. The last edition, in 2010, found the expectation of a job after graduation to be most important factor influencing applicants, while safety ranked alongside academic reputation as the next most important. Lifestyle and culture were next.

In a report published last year, PA Consulting estimated that international students directly contributed £2.5 billion to the economy of London – up by more than two-thirds in five years. Other benefits that could not be quantified included their contribution to research, the skills of graduates and the likelihood of future overseas investment influenced by the city’s graduates. The overall economic benefits were put at £6 billion a year, although the consultants said the true figure could be much higher.

Five UK universities in recent years – London South Bank, City University London, West London, Edinburgh Napier and Birmingham City – have changed their names to emphasise their city locations. In Canada, the University of Western Ontario is proposing to drop the name of its province from its title to be more recognisable to international students.

Universities in Birmingham have even clubbed together to commission a Lonely Planet guide to the UK’s second city from the perspective of students and graduates. David Farrow, Director of Communications at Aston University, said: “At open days and on schools visits, and through discussions with potential students, it was plain to all of the institutions in Birmingham that young people from outside the West Midlands had a real desire to know more about what the city has to offer – and that whilst a vibrant, safe location would not be the single factor driving choice of university, it was the critical context when deciding where to spend the next three or four years of their life.”

Ben Sowter, who heads the QS Intelligence Unit, which has produced the ranking, says: “Going to university is about much more than the prestige of an institution or the quality of the research it produces. I hope this broader ranking will help to fill an important gap in the information students need in choosing where to study.”

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