Best place for the best time of your life

Which is the best city in the world to be a student? It is an almost impossible question to answer – are you looking for the best party city or the most rarefied academic cluster? Miami or Boston, Newcastle or Oxford?

And should you consider the most perennial of student concerns – money? How far would a student loan go in New York, London or Paris? Would you have a better time and come out with a smaller debt burden in a cheaper city?

Despite all the difficulties inherent in creating a ‘best student city’ league table, one research team have tackled this near impossible task. The QS Best Student Cities team looked at affordability (both in terms of living costs and tuition fees), quality of life (including crime and housing), student mix and the number of overseas students, the number and quality of universities and the academic and employer reputation of the institutions.

The top ten list makes for interesting (if not wholly surprising) reading:

1. Paris, France

2. London, UK

3. Boston, US

4. Melbourne, Australia

5. Vienna, Austria

6. Sydney, Australia

7. Zurich, Switzerland

8. Berlin, Germany

9. Dublin, Ireland

10. Montreal, Canada

Paris and London were given similar scores for the quality and range of their institutions and for the overall student experience. This is fair enough – the two capital cities both contain some of their respective country’s leading advanced study faculties.

The University of London boasts University College London, King’s College London and the London School of Economics amongst its constituent colleges. In addition and recently outside the University of London but still geographically central to the capital, Imperial College.

In addition, the School of Advanced Study, the British Library and a wealth of museums and research institutions ensure there is credible academic concentration in the UK’s capital.

Over the Channel, Paris has the Université de Paris, a historic giant now broken into 13 autonomous institutions. Several include the name of their most famous predecessor institution – the Collège de Sorbonne.

The cream of the academic crop is removed from the university sector and concentrated in the grandes écoles, many of which are located in and around Paris (including Sciences Po – L’Instituts d’Études Politiques Paris, École des hautes études commerciales (HEC) and the École Normale Supérieure (Paris)).

As with London, national institutions and museums, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Louvre, ensure a critical mass of academic concentration in the French capital.

In the end, Paris won over London because of cost. Tuition fees for international students from outside the European Union studying in the UK are as high as £20,000, whilst in France they are just £1,000 a year at the public universities.

Boston undoubtedly features some of the world’s best known academic names – Harvard, MIT, Boston University and Boston College are perhaps the best known, but are joined by another 48 institutions of higher education in metropolitan Boston. These include Brandeis, Bentley and Tufts and a branch of the University of Massachusetts. I was also intrigued to see a big splodge labelled Curry College – clearly a great centre of learning!

Boston only has the fourth largest number of students in US cities (115,620). This is behind New York (355,072), Chicago (158,838) and Philadelphia (120,716), but ahead of Los Angeles (112,679) (figures apply to the wider metropolitan areas).