The prestige of its universities tops Sydney’s offerings, making Melbourne a hugely popular destination for those looking to study in the world’s most liveable city.

This article is the fourth in a series featuring the top five cities for students around the globe in 2012, determined by QS. A number of factors were considered in the organization’s ranking, including educational institutions, quality of living, affordability and employer activity. Melbourne came in fourth.

It might not be Australia’s most populous city, but the prestige of Melbourne’s universities, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, RMIT University and La Trobe University, tops Sydney’s offerings, rendering it a hugely popular destination for students. The city’s student population numbers to about 189,000, of whom one-third are from overseas.

Ranked the world’s most liveable city two times running by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Report, Melbourne rivals the likes of Boston, Paris and London when it comes to having a lively university culture that offers both a spirited, urban nightlife scene and nearby beaches. Not to be overlooked as a cultural hotbed either, this coastal city is a Unesco city of literature, it produced the first ever feature film, The Story of Kelly Gang, released in 1906, and is a notable international contributor in the arts, from the Impressionist movement to the Heidelberg School to vibrant street art. The strength of the Australian dollar makes the city expensive for many, but employability prospects within Melbourne are plentiful.  

Best spots
Many students stick around their universities when not in class, and favourite night spots around the University of Melbourne in the Carlton neighbourhood include the sports bar Turf and pub and watering hole dating back to 1863 Prince Alfred. Lygon Street, the main artery of the neighbourhood, is lined with inexpensive Italian restaurants, and a bring-your-own-beverage dinner is a popular way to start a night out. Nearby, the Central Business District (CBD) is home to nightclubs like the fairy tale-like New Guernica, flashy Sorry Grandma -- considered one of the best clubs in town -- and multi-tiered The Toff in Town. Many students also explore the city’s underground club scene (after all, it was here the rave dance Melbourne Shuffle was created).

For the bar scene, the Fitzroy area’s Brunswick Street is packed with laid-back venues, of which Perseverance is a top choice, as indicated by the queue that forms outside on weekends. The artsy area also contains a number of galleries and cosy bookshops, as well as a Spanish quarter where people can watch a flamenco show and dine on tapas. For shopping and perhaps to catch a flick, Melbourne Central in the CBD is a complex with numerous stores, eating and drinking establishments and a cinema. The neighbourhood of St Kilda is about 30 minutes from the city centre by tram, and is an entertaining alternative option for a day or night by the beach; stop by the bar Vineyard for its live music.

Student activities
The quality of life for students in Melbourne is a point of pride, and with so many international students attending university here, numerous groups and clubs exist to keep students active and socialising. From choir, rugby and surf clubs to Aussie Rules, the local sport Australian Football dating to the 1850s, those studying in Melbourne have constant options for activities and opportunities outside the classroom but still within their universities. The University of Melbourne student union is an active organisation that puts on a thorough programme of events, including comedy festivals, theatre performances and concerts. Citywide, Melbourne is always alive with cultural activities that attract a slew of students. Annual anticipated events include music fests Good Vibrations featuring Australian talent and taking place in February, Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April and Falls Music and Arts Fest that takes places in nearby Lorne in late December and books internationally renowned talent. Coeds in town over Australia’s winter months often check out the Melbourne International Film Festival in July and August.

Student discounts
Most universities in Melbourne offer university-specific discount cards that work in and around the city, from purchasing books to gym memberships. Bus, tram and train lines comprise Melbourne’s transport system and students have access to a variety of discounted pass options at varying price points, depending on length of time and zones required. The information is detailed on the Public Transit Victoria site. International students are eligible to obtain the free Culture Card Victoria that grants access to discounted trips, events and outings, such as tours to nearby day trip destinations as well as visits to the Arts Centre Melbourne, focused on showcasing the performing arts.

Day trips
St Kilda is a quick jaunt on the tram from Melbourne and is a preferred destination for a day at the beach or a night out, as it is the closest beach to the city centre. To escape city hubbub, the Grampians mountain range and national park lies 260km northwest of Melbourne. Many head here by train and coach to explore and hike for a day, as well as see kangaroos and other native animals in the wild animal reserve. Philip Island is a retreat 140km south of the city, where tiny penguins make their daily parade from the water to the hills at twilight and scores of seals bask on Seal Rock along the island’s striking beaches. Travellers can reach the island via the V/Line public coach.

A scenic road trip down the coast along the Great Ocean Road passes the Twelve Apostles, natural limestone rock formations that rise up majestically from the Southern Ocean on Victoria's dramatic coastline. Australia also claims a robust wine industry, and the Yarra Valley, 50km east of Melbourne and reachable via coach or train, is a common outing for a day of vineyard visiting and wine tippling.

Travelling on a budget
The student tram discount is the best way to travel inexpensively within the city and the train is another common mode of transport. Only permanent residents and Australian citizens are eligible for the Victorian Public Transit Student Concession Card, but overseas students can obtain the top-up Myki card. As is the trend in most major international cities, Melbourne has a bike rental program, Melbourne Bike Share, that students regularly use. Sporting a helmet is an enforced law in Australia and you can rent helmets when you grab a bike. For travels farther afield, Tiger Airways is a majorly discounted carrier, though some students find it too unreliable to use regularly and go with the slightly pricier JetStar instead. Tracing Victoria’s coastline is a popular trip, and Greyhound offers bus packages that cost far under what airfare would run for the same route.