Most Affordable Cities for Students 2014

Most Affordable Cities for Students 2014

Laura Bridgestock

Updated January 24, 2022 Updated January 24

To see the results for 2017, click here.

When searching for your ideal study destination, it can seem impossible to find somewhere that meets all your criteria, especially your budget. But for those willing to travel, there are a broad range affordable student cities worldwide – and spending less does not have to mean compromising on the quality of the university or your wider study abroad experience.

Below are 2014’s ten most affordable cities for students, based on the QS Best Student Cities 2014. This index uses four indicators to assess affordability: tuition fees, Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey, the Big Mac Index and the iPad Index. These are combined (with tuition fees carrying twice the weight of the other indicators) to give an overall picture of the level of costs students can expect to incur while living and studying in each city. 


Each of these cities also meets the general criteria for inclusion in the overall Best Student Cities index: a population of over 250,000 and at least two universities assessed as part of the QS World University Rankings®. So each city offers the chance to study at an internationally recognized institution and to be part of a sizeable metropolis, with all the recreational and professional opportunities that can bring.

Some of these top 10 most affordable cities combine low tuition fees with generally low living expenses; others are in fact known for being pretty expensive places to live, but this is balanced out by low study costs. Half of the top 10 are in Europe, four in Asia and one in Latin America. It’s perhaps unsurprising that none are in the US, UK, Australia or Canada – all very popular among international students, but all known for charging high tuition fees.

1. Kuala Lumpur

This year’s most affordable city for students is Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, ranked 43rd in the Best Student Cities overall. Malaysia has been steadily gaining presence in the international university rankings, and many of its leading universities are found here in the capital, including Universiti Malaya, which ranks among the world’s top 200. General living costs are fairly low, and international students can expect to pay annual tuition fees of around US$3,000, on average.

Top universities: Universiti Malaya (UM); International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM); Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)

Average tuition fees: US$3,000

Cost of a Big Mac: US$2.33

Cost of an iPad: US$473.77

2. Mexico City

One of three Latin American entries in the top 50 of this year’s Best Student Cities, the Mexican capital ranks at 46th in the overall index. This huge city – among the largest metropolitan areas in the world – is home to an impressive selection of internationally ranked institutions, led by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), which is within the world’s top 200 and well-established in the top 10 of the QS University Rankings: Latin America.

Top universities: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM); Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN); Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA); Instituto Tecnológico Autonomo de México (ITAM); Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México; Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM); Universidad Anahuac

Average tuition fees: US$3,800

Cost of a Big Mac: US$2.70

Cost of an iPad: US$591.62

3. Taipei

Taiwan’s capital is another city with an impressive concentration of leading universities. Taipei is home to the country’s top institution, National Taiwan University, which ranks within the world’s top 100, as well as a selection of other leading institutions, both specialized and comprehensive. Tuition fees are relatively low, at an average of US$2,500 per year, as are general living costs. This fast-paced, 24/7 city has a population comparable to that of Hong Kong, and similarly fuses a very modern urban lifestyle with opportunities to explore traditional aspects of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese culture.

Top universities: National Taiwan University (NTU); National Yang Ming University; Taipei Medical University; National Taiwan University of Science and Technology; National Taiwan Normal University; National Taipei University of Technology; National Chengchi University; Fu Jen Catholic University

Average tuition fees: US$2,500

Cost of a Big Mac: US$2.48

Cost of an iPad: US$538.34

4. Berlin

Now just outside the top 10 overall in the QS Best Student Cities, Berlin remains one of the world’s most affordable cities for students. This is largely thanks to the fact that public universities in Berlin, as in most parts of Germany, do not charge tuition fees to either local or international students (with the exception of some master’s programs). Berlin itself is a relatively inexpensive place to live, and certainly much more affordable than other Western European capitals such as London or Paris. Its highest ranked university, Freie Universität Berlin, is just outside the world’s top 100.

Top universities: Freie Universität Berlin; Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Technische Universität Berlin

Average tuition fees: US$0

Cost of a Big Mac: US$4.34

Cost of an iPad: US$618.34

5. Munich

Germany’s third largest city, Munich is home to the country’s second and third highest ranked universities, Technische Universität München and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, which are currently at 53rd and 65th in the world respectively. The city has slightly higher general living expenses than Berlin, and is located in Bavaria, one of the last German regions to charge tuition fees, albeit fairly low ones. In fact the regional government has recently announced that fees will be abolished by the end of the current academic year, so Munich seems set to become an even more affordable study destination.

Top universities: Technische Universität München; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Average tuition fees: US$1,000

Cost of a Big Mac: US$4.34

Cost of an iPad: US$618.34

6. Shanghai

China’s largest city by population, and the largest city proper in the world, Shanghai has in fact been rated the most expensive Chinese city to live in. However, it still emerges as one of the most affordable cities for students; living costs are still relatively low from an international perspective, and average tuition fees are about the same as in Malaysia. It’s home to several of China’s highest ranking universities, including Fudan University (currently ranked 88th in the world) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (123rd) and is highly rated by graduate employers as a source of recruits.

Top universities: Fudan University; Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Shanghai University; Tongji University

Average tuition fees: US$3,000

Cost of a Big Mac: US$2.45

Cost of an iPad: US$602.52

7. Lyon

While Paris is top of the overall QS Best Student Cities for the second year running, it’s the country’s second largest conurbation which takes the highest score for affordability. Lyon benefits from France’s low tuition fee rates, without the high living costs associated with the French capital. Its top university, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, is the fourth highest ranked in France, at 158= in the QS World University Rankings®, and the top French university outside of Paris. As well as scoring well for affordability, Lyon also does well in the ‘student mix’ category of the index, reflecting its large and internationally diverse student community.

Top universities: Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon; Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1; Université Lumière Lyon 2; Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3

Average tuition fees: US$1,000

Cost of a Big Mac: US$4.34

Cost of an iPad: US$688.49

8. Brussels

Capital of Belgium and de facto capital of the European Union, Brussels ranks at 32nd in the overall Best Student Cities index. Its highest score is in fact for quality of living, and like Lyon, it also scores well in the student mix category. In terms of overall living costs, it’s not at either extreme, but offers good overall affordability for students thanks to low average tuition fees of just US$1,000 per year. Its two leading universities, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, both rank within the world’s top 200.

Top universities: Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB); Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Average tuition fees: US$1,000

Cost of a Big Mac: US$4.34

Cost of an iPad: US$618.34

9. Helsinki

The Finnish capital is not often found on lists of most affordable cities; the Nordic region of Europe is famed for its high living costs. However, Helsinki is the most affordable of the Nordic capitals according to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, and also benefits from the fact that in Finland all bachelor’s and doctoral programs are free, regardless of nationality. (The country is just nearing the end of a trial period in which some master’s programs carry fees for non-EU/EEA students). Helsinki is home to Finland’s top two universities, both of which rank within the world’s top 200.

Top universities: University of Helsinki; Aalto University

Average tuition fees: US$0

Cost of a Big Mac: US$4.34

Cost of an iPad: US$695.25

10. Hong Kong

Hong Kong has much higher average tuition fees than the other cities in this top 10, and is also rated among the world’s most expensive cities according to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey. However, while some expenses, such as those relating to property, are very high in this densely packed city-state, daily expenses such as food remain relatively cheap. And of course the fees are still much lower than those charged in the US, for instance. Hong Kong boasts one of the world’s most impressive collections of high-ranking universities, including three within the world’s top 50.

Top universities: University of Hong Kong (HKU); The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST); The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK); City University of Hong Kong; The Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU); Lingnan University (Hong Kong)

Average tuition fees: US$12,100

Cost of a Big Mac: US$2.13

Cost of an iPad: US$501.52

This article was originally published in November 2013 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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