Montreal ranked top city for students

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

Image caption, Students at Concordia University in Montreal, the top ranked world city for students

Montreal has been named as the best city in the world for students.

This international ranking of university cities has seen Paris slip from first place - a position the French capital has held for four years.

The Canadian city has come top of the QS Best Student Cities, a spin-off from the annual QS World University Rankings.

It will add to suggestions that Canada will attract a bigger slice of the lucrative international student market, particularly if there are concerns about changes to entry rules under President Trump.

It also has the benefit of being able to offer degree courses in two big international languages - with English-speaking universities such as McGill University, and French-speaking, such as the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Entry to this league table requires cities to have at least a population of 250,000 and to be home to at least two universities in the World University Rankings.

Alternative countries

The rankings are based on a basket of measures - including the quality of universities, facilities for students, affordability, the "desirability" of the city for students, access to employers, the international nature of a city, levels of tolerance, pollution and safety.

Image source, iStock

Canada is seen as high on desirability for international students - with Montreal in top place and Vancouver in 10th and Toronto in 11th place.

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit which produces the ranking, forecasts that Canada's growing popularity will be part of an increase in "alternatives to the traditionally dominant study destinations, both in Europe and North America".

"Canada will become a major player," forecasts Mr Sowter.

Canada could attract students from the US, and the UK could lose students to Ireland, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, he says.

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A spokeswoman for the city of Montreal says there has already been a surge of international students - with big rises in student numbers from China, India, France and Iran.

London still calling

Figures from admissions services in the UK have already shown a 7% fall in applications from EU students - and UK universities have been worried that the backwash of Brexit will leave the UK looking less welcoming to overseas students.

But there are no signs of an adverse impact on London in this year's rankings, moving up from fifth place to third.

Image source, iStock
Image caption, London continues to have a strong appeal for students, according to this ranking

The two great world cities of London and Paris are in the top three best places to study - able to offer both a rich cultural as well as academic experience.

Along with Boston, which can claim Harvard, MIT and Boston University, London and Paris are boosted by the strength and number of top universities.

The slip from first to second place for Paris is attributed to cost and a loss in desirability, including safety.

Mr Sowter rejects a link to terror attacks in the French capital - saying that when students are surveyed only a handful of cities are seen as more attractive than Paris.

He says students seem to be resilient to accepting there are no "zero risk" cities - whether it is Boston, Berlin or Paris, all of which have maintained their attraction.

Seoul appeal

London's universities rate highly on quality - "no city has a superior variety and quality of universities to London" - and the falling value of the pound after the EU referendum has improved their affordability for overseas students.

Edinburgh is Scotland's highest ranked university in 18th place.

Apart from Canada, the only other country with two cities in the top 10 is Germany, with Berlin and Munich. This reflects Germany's financial advantages for overseas students - who do not have to pay any tuition fees.

Image caption, Montreal and other Canadian universities have been offering an alternative to the US

The most affordable cities of all, taking into account living costs, were Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Surabaya in Indonesia. Stockholm in Sweden and New York in the US were the most expensive.

Asian countries - particularly China and India - provide the biggest cohorts of overseas students. But Asian countries are becoming big magnets in their own right, with five cities in the top 20, headed by Seoul, which has risen to fourth place.

Shanghai is the highest rated city in China in 25th place, with Mumbai the highest in India in 85th place.

The competition for attracting international students is big business.

The US remains the biggest market and annual figures show that for the first time more than a million overseas students were at US universities - with almost 330,000 from China alone.

Apart from the benefits from international research partnerships - and the long-term influence of soft power - such international students are officially estimated at being worth almost $36bn (£29bn) to the US economy.

Being able to attract more of these valuable students makes these rankings much more than a civic beauty contest.

QS Best Student Cities 2017

1. Montreal

2. Paris

3. London

4. Seoul

5. Melbourne

6. Berlin

7. Tokyo

8. Boston

9. Munich

10. Vancouver

11. Hong Kong and Toronto

13. Sydney

14. Singapore

15. Zurich

16. Vienna

17. Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe

18. Edinburgh

19. New York

20. Brisbane

21. Taipei

22. Canberra

23. Barcelona

24. Manchester

25. Shanghai