WHICH CITY offers the best return on investment to an International Student? A report analyses cities for precisely this information… Montreal top and Delhi at bottom of those assessed.

We have seen several ranking on “Which University” but that doesn’t put any value on the location of the University. Which city offers the best Return on Investment to an International Student? This is what the Bank of Communication Sea Turtle Index and the report published by The Economist aims to assessing.

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I am quoting the executive summary of the report below… The link to the full report is provided at the end of this blog…

As the pace of globalisation accelerates and demand for higher education grows, global student mobility is on the rise. In 2010, more than 4.1m tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Prospective students who want to study abroad, and their parents, face a staggering choice of locations in which to do so. Of course, the quality of the educational offering is crucial. Yet this is often not the sole consideration. Other factors include the potential for returns on financial and real-estate investments, the availability of work experience opportunities for graduates and the depth of cultural experience that an educational location will offer.

The Bank of Communications Sea Turtle Index takes all these factors into account in ranking 80 cities by the overall potential return on an undergraduate education at institutions in those cities. The index considers:

  • Educational returns: how highly valued the education is elsewhere in the world, balanced against whether it represents good value for money.
  • Financial returns: how open the investment environment is to non-nationals, and how high are policy, economic and currency volatility risks that may affect returns on investments.
  • Realestate returns: the potential of the local real estate market, the likely returns on investment in the form of rent and how taxes will affect those returns.
  • Work-experience: the openness of the local job market to overseas skilled applicants, whether overseas students are supported by their university in seeking jobs and whether the local economy offers high-pay, low-tax opportunities.
  • Social experience: whether students are exposed to world-class cultural experiences and can study among a truly multicultural student body.

To compile the index, different weightings were ascribed to sub-indices representing each of these five factors (themselves compiled from a variety of separate indicators). Educational returns received the highest weighting since, ultimately, this factor is likely to influence most people’s decisions more strongly than any other. A full explanation of the index methodology is available in the Appendix to this paper.

This report analyses the results of the headline Sea Turtle Index and sub-indices representing each of the five factors. Its main findings include:

An open environment pays dividends.
The importance of an environment that is open to overseas students and their investor parents is strongly reflected in the index. The city of Montreal in Canada takes first place for this reason. The quality of education at institutions in the city is important, but Canada’s welcoming immigration policies, offering good opportunities for employment after graduation, also make it an appealing destination. Its comparative openness to foreign investors and its cultural diversity also boost its attractiveness as a destination for international undergraduates.

Richer Asian cities score highly
The index reveals a shifting educational landscape, with some of Asia’s more affluent cities scoring highly. Hong Kong makes it to third place in the headline index, while some cities with younger universities in emerging markets come out surprisingly strongly. Several Asian cities make it into the top 30 overall, with many—including Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei—appearing high up in the five sub-indices. Hong Kong’s high overall ranking reflects an appealing combination of openness to investment, soaring real-estate returns and an increasingly high-quality education.

Cost and limited workexperience potential push down many US cities
Since the index takes into account more than just educational quality, some cities hosting leading educational institutions—particularly in the US—emerge weaker than expected. This is the case for Boston,2 which is the highest-ranked US city at seventh place overall, despite the exemplary educational quality of many of its educational institutions. Their relatively lower scores in terms of potential work experience after graduation also counts against US cities. The absence of visa programmes that enable graduating foreign students to remain in the jurisdiction to conduct a job hunt is one reason for this.

Bang for the educational buck: Asia is increasingly appealing
The sub-index ranking educational returns shows that the UK cities of Cambridge, Oxford and London continue to offer the best education after factoring in value for money and the cost of living. But Asian universities also perform well, with three Asian cities—Seoul, Beijing and Taipei—featuring in the top ten. Along with the improving quality of education on offer at institutions in Asia, value for money is also a significant consideration, giving these cities a comparative advantage. In addition, many Asian universities—particularly in China—are forming joint ventures with prestigious long-established Western universities, giving students the best of both worlds: affordability and quality education.

Beyond growth rates: foreign-friendly rules play a role
Strong GDP growth rates are only valuable to foreign investors if they are accompanied by an open economy and banking system. Factoring in these two indicators means developed markets dominate the top ten on the sub-index measuring financial returns—and Hong Kong, famed for the openness of its economy, is at the very top. In a global regulatory environment that is increasingly suspicious of offshore investments, and with stricter taxation being applied in several locations, some developed markets (including some Swiss, American and French cities) fare poorly in this factor.

Canada and Australia’s generous visa rules offer good work experience potential: Cities in Canada and Australia dominate the work experience sub-index, thanks to progressive, open policies that seek not only to attract students from all over the world but also to give them the opportunity to contribute to the dynamism of their economies. Canada allows students to stay on after graduation for as many years as their course lasted (with a minimum of eight months and a maximum of three years), without requiring a work sponsor. Australia allows people with bachelor degrees to stay on for two years, also without a work sponsor.

Cultural vibrancy: Western names still at the top
Unsurprisingly, the cities that have long been known as the world’s most culturally vibrant remain near the top of the social experience sub-index. It would be surprising if cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris did not score highly in this respect. However, a city’s appeal can often have a lot to do with how well it has promoted its brand internationally. In this respect, Singapore (in fourth place in the social experience sub-index) has done well, helping boost its position in the overall Sea Turtle Index to 12th place.

The report that can be found on this link is © 2013 The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd and Bank of Communications Limited.



  1. well it’s made by a British news agency and thus they’ll certainly put western names on top. Fake and Gay just like the Times Higher Education table and other league tables. They would NEVER put an Asian institute on top that’s for sure coz they are still biased and being british INHERENTLY RACIST.


  2. I reckon a it is a very good article for future students who are considering to study in other countries. Very detailed and informative article. Thanks Ravi


  3. Thanks for posting this blogpost.

    The report makes interesting reading but the conclusions do not give a full picture of the reality.

    American cities are considered not value for money but that does not appear to take into account the numerous scholarship opportunities that talented international students can access particularly for graduate study offered either by the government or individual institutions – these are far more generous and numerous than most countries.

    Tax rates and real estate are also unlikely to have a major impact on students– it would be rare for an international student who is essentially transient (and more often that not funded by parents/family or an external source rather than through their own savings) to be investing in the city that they are studying in. On the other hand exchange rates have a direct impact on international student recruitment which, although mentioned, appears to have been downplayed.

    Also with the exception of those students which have ties to a specific location (e.g. close family nearby) student decision making studies place choice of city in fourth place after choosing the subject, country and institution.


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