The Best Student Cities in the UK

  |     |   City Guides, Student Living

Which student city outranks the rest?

With some of the best unis in the world, impressive work prospects for graduates, globally recognised degrees, a great work-life balance and some of the best lifestyle, culture and nightlife attractions in the world, it’s no wonder over 400,000 international students choose to study in the UK each year. If you’re considering where to go, start with the top 10 best student cities in the UK.


Top 10: Best Student Cities in the UK

Each year the QS Best Student Cities index analyses factors like student mix, employer activity, affordability and more to create a list of the best student cities worldwide. London currently ranks 1st out of 120 cities overall, followed by Tokyo and Melbourne. Discover where the top student cities in the UK rank overall.  

1. London

(Global ranking – 1)

The large concentration of world-class universities is not the only reason the capital ranks as the best student city in the world. Aside from academics, London is one of the most prominent business, culture and travel spots in Europe, with plenty to offer students looking for diversity and life experience.

The only drawback is affordability, as it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to live in London cheap as a student, from using student discounts for travelling on the underground and overground, to knowing which areas are more affordable for London student accommodation.  

2. Edinburgh

(Global ranking – 15)

Edinburgh’s scenery, entertainment scene and local friendliness make it one of the best places to be while you study. The Scottish capital is known for its history, charm and excellent quality of life. Massive annual events like the Edinburgh International Festival and the New Year’s Hogmanay street party are a dream for students.

It’s easy to stay close to the action with plenty of Edinburgh student flats and shared apartments to choose from, and travel around the city is convenient and straightforward. While tuition fees are slightly higher than other UK cities, it is entirely subsidised for undergraduate students from within the EU (excluding the rest of the UK) by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland.  

3. Manchester

(Global ranking – 29)

Manchester is one of the top student cities, thanks to its several world-class universities and exceptional student culture. Famous acts hailing from this city include Oasis, Joy Division, Stone Roses and The Smiths, so if you’re into music, you’re in for a treat.

With a thriving arts and entertainment scene, vibrant nightlife and loads to see and explore, Manchester is a great city to study in.  

4. Glasgow

(Global ranking – 39)

Glasgow is home to several stellar universities and colleges, and as a student city, there’s no shortage of affordable student accommodation options either.

Academics aside, there are loads of other reasons to study in Glasgow, from the city’s entertainment and art to its thriving music scene. A huge mix of international students call the city home, and the diverse melting pot of cultures makes it one of the most exciting UK cities to settle into.  

5. Coventry

(Global ranking – 47)

This city has gained attention due to its proximity to the University of Warwick, although the highly reputable Coventry University should not be overlooked. Affordable studios or student flats in Coventry offer proximity to campuses, and travelling anywhere in town is easy. It’s also just an hour away from London for quick day trips into the capital.

If you’re looking for some culture, Coventry is home to several art galleries and theatres and hosts numerous music and sports events. It has also been named the UK City of Culture for 2021 for its diversity and culture.  

6. Nottingham

(Global ranking – 48)

Nottingham University has strong global ties, with a large international student population and branch campuses in Malaysia and China. In addition to its strong academic game, the city has an abundance of things to do, from shopping and theatres to entertainment venues and restaurants. Getting around is easy, and you’re in for a warm welcome from friendly locals.  

7. Birmingham

(Global ranking – 49)

Birmingham’s five high-ranking universities attract thousands of international students each year, making it one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK. It’s also the second-largest, with a student-friendly environment, vibrant culture and nightlife scene, and loads of affordable accommodation options.

The large student population means there’s no shortage of music festivals, international acts, sporting matches and locals bars and clubs.  

8. Newcastle Upon Tyne

(Global ranking – 57)

Regularly voted one of the top student cities in the UK, Newcastle has a large student population, a great mix of private and shared accommodation catering to students, and a relatively low cost of living, making it the cheapest UK city for a date!

The city is steeped in history and home to plenty of cultural and entertainment options. The local ‘Geordies’ are known for their hospitality and friendliness. In addition to academics, there are plenty of fun things to do in Newcastle for students, from live poetry jams and art museums to the biggest pub crawl in the city.  

9. Aberdeen

(Global ranking – 64)

Aberdeen has been voted best Scottish city to live and work in. Between its stellar academic opportunities, cheap student accommodation and insanely beautiful scenery, the city attracts students from all over the world each year, making it one of the most cosmopolitan.

The stunning coastline and surrounding countryside provide a great scenic backdrop for outdoor activities, while a thriving creative, arts and culture scene offers non-stop entertainment and inspiration.  

10. Brighton

(Global ranking – 83)

One of the liveliest cities in the UK, Brighton caters to its large student population with year-round festivals, gigs, pubs and clubs, beach parties and more. Vintage clothing shops, cafes, comedy clubs and restaurants are sprinkled throughout the city, and with something to do around every corner, a wander through the graffiti lined alleys of Brighton won’t leave you disappointed. Source: UK rankings sourced from Top Universities City Rankings 2019   Click to enlarge   


Best City for Graduates – Glasgow

Graduates in Glasgow can expect to earn around £26,195 a year, making it the best city to live and work in when just starting in your career. London comes in second place with a high graduate salary of £20,757, however, it is also one of the most expensive cities to live in.


Cheapest City for Students – Cardiff

The most affordable UK city for students is Cardiff. This is followed by Bristol, Leicester, Southampton and Manchester. Affordability is calculated by taking students’ average monthly accommodation, activities and item costs, and dividing them by their average monthly income. Cardiff is also the third cheapest city in the UK for a date!


Happiest Student City – Belfast

According to research by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which analysed survey data from nearly 60,000 undergraduate students between 2015 and 2019, students in Northern Ireland are the happiest in the UK. These students reported better wellbeing overall. An impressive 94% of its students say they’re ‘very happy’ with their education and social life. Brighton came in second with 93%, followed by Coventry with 92%.


 What Matters to Students

When it comes to choosing a country to study in, more than half of international students (59%) say the number one factor is how friendly it is. This is followed by the quality of teaching at 56% and how affordable studying costs are at 44%. When considering which country to study in, proximity is least important to international students, with only 5% looking closer to their home country.

At the start of 2020, uni admissions looked strong across the board. A record 39.5% of all 18-year-olds in the UK had applied to university, with over 500,000 people looking to start in September 2020. In August 2019 a record number of 80,000 students was also expected to secure places in clearing.

Explore accommodation in some of the top student city locations.

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