Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
18th Jan 2023

Measuring cost of study and cost of living across study destinations

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Comparing costs from one city or country to the next can be challenging, especially given the considerable ranges in tuition fees and living costs within even a single destination country
  • However, a number of recent summaries provide some helpful indicators of relative costs for international students

Even before the pandemic, the affordability of different study abroad options was rising as a consideration for many prospective international students and their families. This reflects a growing emphasis on the return on investment of study abroad – especially in South Asia and Africa, where increasing numbers of students are considering travelling abroad for education but where family finances may be relatively limited.

This year, the costs of study, living, and accommodation have come into even greater focus for students. Prices are rising for food and household goods and inflation is spiralling upwards around the globe. On top of all that, there are real issues with the availability of affordable housing in many countries.

Comparing costs from one study destination to another can be tricky, given shifting currency exchange rates, wide ranges in tuition fees by institution or programme type, and an equally wide range in housing costs by type and location. Helpful resources in this regard are sometimes difficult to come by for families trying to determine what they can and can't afford, but we have located a few.

A 2022 analysis from real estate specialists Savills offers an interesting window into comparative costs for selected destinations. The analysis relies on some common reference points in converting costs to US dollars for an international student enrolled in a STEM undergraduate degree programme and living in purpose-built student accommodation.

The following chart provides estimated monthly costs for a student fitting that profile in 20 destination cities.

Total monthly student costs for 20 study destinations, given in US$. Note that the accompanying arrows on city names indicate change up or down the ranking since 2019. Source: Savills Research

"New York, San Francisco and Boston retain their position at top of the cost rankings, charging the highest tuition fees – upwards of $85,000 per annum – which comprise two-thirds of their total costs to students. Two more English-speaking cities follow: London and Sydney," explains Savills analyst Lucy Palk. "A comparatively lower cost of living in European cities, relatively affordable rent and tuition makes some European cities particularly attractive to international students. More English-taught courses, vibrant social and cultural scenes, as well as the opportunity to learn a new language make Warsaw, Vienna and Berlin increasingly attractive to international students in particular."

A related summary from Studee.com demonstrates the considerable range of tuition fees for eight leading study destinations, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Comparing tuition fee ranges in major study destinations, converted to US$, and based on 2020 fee levels. Source: Studee.com

We can observe similar ranges, even within a single destination country, by city, location, and accommodation type. This further variability is reflected in the following breakdown from Erudera showing estimated monthly costs for selected US cities.

Estimated monthly costs for selected US cities, in US$. Source: Erudera

For additional background, please see:

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