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Top 10 Australian cities for university students

Hugo James

Agile AI Digital Executive at Optus
Australia is home to an amazing array of world class cities and towns, but which ones are the best for university students?

Australia has more than 40 universities spread across over 100 campuses. Locals at every one of them will tell you why their neck of the woods is the best. But which city really takes the cake? GradAustralia has looked at the 5 key factors for a good student life; cost of living, cultural life, night life, climate, and university density/student population, which has led us to bring you the definitive list of top 10 university towns. Starting at number 10….

10. Bathurst

BashurtsJohn O’Neil  / via Wikipedia.com​​​

Bathurst begins our list, and this is due mainly to two distinct factors; price and population. Bathurst is easily the cheapest university town in the top 10, being a full $65 a week cheaper than any other town on the shortlist, allowing students to legitimately save during university, or alternatively spend more on their living arrangements. This is coupled with a relatively high percentage of students, which allows students to enjoy a strong sense of community in this quaint rural town.

Bathurst loses out in terms of its nightlife and cultural life. While it does possess some iconic locations such as its infamous pub ‘The Ox’, and the Mount Panorama raceway, Bathurst lacks the range of choice offered by other cities, and for this reason it sits at number 10.

9. Newcastle 

NewcastleTim J Keegan / via Flickr.com

Newcastle is quickly establishing itself as one of the prominent student cities in Australia, experiencing a sharp growth in the town’s student population in the last few years. This sharp growth in student population can be linked to the increasing difference in living costs between Newcastle and Sydney, with Newcastle offering a great environment for students who are looking for a relaxed yet dynamic lifestyle near the beach.

However, Newcastle unfortunately lacks the choice in regards to university that other cities offer, and while Newcastle’s cultural mark is growing, it still lacks the sheer quantity and quality of cultural landmarks, museums and icons of other cities. Newcastle is a growing student city, and for those looking for a university experience focused towards a cheap and alternative student culture, you may not need to look further.

8. Wollongong

WollongongAlex Proimos / via Flickr.com

Wollongong, or “The Gong” as it’s lovingly referred to by local students and residents, has become one of the top contenders for a truly iconic Australian university lifestyle. With the highest proportionate student population (over 13% of the total population), Wollongong has a real focus on student life. The natural environment is a huge win for Wollongong, and the abundance of beaches and the proximity of bushland makes it a huge draw, especially for international students.

The small city vibes of Wollongong, while preserving a more relaxed lifestyle choice, do unfortunately hinder its nightlife, and the lack of a true cultural presence compared to the larger cities does push Wollongong down the list. However, if you are looking for a leisurely, beachy university lifestyle while you study, Wollongong is definitely something to consider.

7. Gold Coast 

Gold CoastGccec2011 / via Wikipedia.com

The Gold Coast holds the privilege of some of the best weather in Australia, and its combination of climate, sprawling beaches and a vibrant nightlife pushes the Gold Coast onto this list. Its relatively low cost of living also gives it an advantage over some of the bigger and better known university cities on this list.

However, the Gold Coast does indeed lack the university culture of some of the other cities on this list, reflecting the relatively low proportion of students living in the city (less than 3%). Gold Coast also loses out by only having limited choices for quality education in some fields of study.

6. Perth

PerthSteve Ellis / via Wikipedia.com

Perth is a fantastic lifestyle opportunity for students looking for top quality university education in some of the best weather conditions for the listed cities. Perth is one of Australia’s fasting growing cities, and presents amazing opportunities for the students willing to cross the Nullarbor. The high quality of education extends to all four of Perth’s universities, increasing the range of choices for students in Perth.

Perth, however, does come at quite a high cost of living, and suffers from a lower student population of only 2.80% of the total city population. While the nightlife and culture in areas such as Northbridge are great for student life, the more laid-back and suburban vibes tend to lead it away from sheer range on offer compared to other cities on this list, and the low student population means that the nightlife loses out on a student-oriented crowd in many cases. For more tips for graduates moving to Perth, check out GradAustralia's moving guide.

5. Adelaide 

AdelaideKeir Gravil / via Wikipedia.com

If you are looking for a city with an environment that has it all, look no further than the City of Churches. With its sprawling parklands, bushland, and beaches, Adelaide is a superb green city, with a great natural environment for students looking for weekend getaways. This incredible natural environment, coupled with four well known universities, has allowed Adelaide to foster a unique student culture over the last decade. Adelaide is one of Australia’s cultural hearts, and ‘the City of Churches’ certainly lives up to its name, with streets lined with architectural highlights and a cultural icon being Adelaide’s verdant botanical gardens.

Adelaide’s downside is in its lack of a consistent climate, with a fair deal less sunny days per year than most other cities occupying this list. It also lacks a large student population, and Adelaide’s nightlife, while varied in its offering, doesn’t offer the sheer range of options that bigger cities can offer. For more tips for graduates moving to Adelaide, check out our moving guide here.

4. Canberra 

CanberraJason Tong / via Flickr.com

For many, a Year 6 excursion to Parliament House and Questacon is the extent of their ‘student’ experience of Canberra. But these people are missing out - Canberra offers a great lifestyle for university students. Its relatively large student population (over 6% of the city) has led to an influx in student oriented services and offerings. The Australian National University is also the highest ranked university in Australia (tied 19th in the QS World University Rankings) and provides a great opportunity for many students, both national and international.8

Canberra, however, does have a few downsides. It’s one of the only major cities not situated on the coast, and due to its relatively small population, lacks the nightlife that can be found in some of the other cities on this list. However, for those that like familiarity when they go out, Canberra might be the perfect city for your studies. Here are more tips for graduates moving to Canberra.

3. Sydney

SydneyBeau Giles / via Flickr.com

Sydney has always been an attractive city for students, and its iconic scenery is a huge draw for many students from all over the world. Sydney boasts sprawling beaches and parks, coupled with high levels of sunshine. The number of internationally lauded universities has also allowed the student population to flourish in Sydney, with a large group hailing from overseas, eager to study in Australia’s largest city. Sydney also can pride itself on its vibrant and unique culture, hosting an array of cultural icons such as The Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

However, Sydney is easily the country’s most expensive city and rental prices have skyrocketed over the past few years - a huge drawback for many students looking to study here. This, coupled with the recent introduction of lockout laws puts a damper on Sydney’s nightlife, making Sydney lose out on a top 2 position on our list. Don't miss these tips for graduates moving to Sydney!

2. Brisbane

BrisbaneLachlan Fearnley / via Wikipedia.com

Brisbane is growing exponentially in terms of student lifestyle and opportunities, attracting global recognition for its student-friendly status. Brisbane has established itself as city that caters to its student population with a vibrant nightlife, with Fortitude valley, or “The Valley” highlighting Brisbane’s thriving nightlife, surpassing Sydney in many aspects. Brisbane also boasts an incredible climate, natural environments and laid-back yet metropolitan culture that you’d struggle to find anywhere outside of the Sunshine State. Brisbane is the perfect choice for students who are looking for a great student experience in an amazing climate, coupled with a great selection of nightlife and culture. Here are more essential tips for graduates moving to Brisbane.

1. Melbourne

MelbourneWimkantona / via Pixabay.com

Melbourne is arguably not only Australia’s best city for university students, but also one of the world’s most liveable cities. Melbourne is the cultural heart of Australia, and students will struggle to run out of places to visit every week; with a wide array of live music, cultural festivals, museums, restaurants and Melbourne’s famous cafés allowing you to fill each day. In terms of nightlife, Melbourne again does not disappoint. With the sheer variety of clubs, pubs and bars, you can hop from a new underground live music bar to a funky CBD rooftop club every week and never get bored.

It is hard to find fault in Melbourne’s student lifestyle, but the cost of living is comparatively high when compared to other cities on this list and the ‘European’ weather that Melbourne is known for is not for everyone. However, Melbourne offers the perfect all-round experience for student living, and as long as you can handle the colder weather, you will be sure to love your studies there. Here are more must-read tips for graduates moving to Melbourne.

Ranking factors 

Objectively ranking cities is always difficult. We’ve looked at the drivers of student quality of life and used a weighted average of five key factors, listed below, to compare each university city and arrive at the final shortlist.

1. Cost of Living 

For any student, the cost of living is a major factor when choosing where to study. The main differentiations in cost of living are as a result of rental prices, which in turn have a large effect on student liveability, and the effect to which students can engage in student life.

2. Cultural Life 

Culture is extremely important to student life, especially for students living in some of the larger cities. Cultural life refers to the ability for residents to access cultural staples such as live music, artwork, museums and for residents to enjoy diverse experiences in their day to day lives.

3. Nightlife

Nightlife is an important aspect for many students, and a great deal of Australia’s cities don’t disappoint in this regard. A city’s nightlife however doesn’t just reflect the sheer number of clubs and pubs available, but rather the variety of the nightlife, including the uniqueness of the city’s nightlife, live music etc.

4. Student Population/ University Density

Student population refers to the number of students in relation to the overall population of the city, while University density refers to the amount of universities a city has to offer. This list considers student population and university density important factors, as they allow a city to develop a student culture and in many cases correlates to the number of offerings available to students studying in the city.

5. Climate

To take into account the climate of each city, this list considers average temperature, and the average number of sunny days that each city enjoys. This factor is important to the extent that it influences the culture and lifestyle fostered by each city.

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