Revealed: the most affordable higher education cities worldwide

Hannah Norton

May 25, 2023

With the pandemic over, more students are open to the idea of moving abroad to study, with six million students reported to be studying internationally in 2022, compared to just two million in 2000.1

However, one of the key considerations of any student or graduate is affordability – especially when it comes to housing. With that in mind, the Australian home loan comparison experts at Compare the Market decided to uncover the most affordable university cities worldwide. To do this, we looked at a selection of the top universities in the world and their rankings, and then looked at mortgage rates and average house prices in each city.

If you are considering moving in order to be closer to a specific university, it’s a good idea to compare your options for home loans. By doing so, you may be able to find a loan with lower rates and more affordable fees, which means there could be more left in the bank to spend on the right property or put towards your study tuition. Of course, before doing so, make sure to check for any requirements for a home loan in any given country, such as having permanent residency before applying for a loan.

So, if you’re considering moving to study, read on to discover which student cities are the most affordable to live in.

Image showing the top 20 most affordable higher education cities across the world.

The full dataset can be viewed here.

Helsinki is officially the most affordable university city

The four top affordable student cities can all be found in Europe – Finland’s capital, Helsinki, comes in top place, with Pisa, Barcelona, and Dublin following not far behind.

In fact, aside from Montreal, which comes in fifth place, all cities in the top 10 are located in Europe. Canada’s Edmonton and Toronto come in 14th and 15th place respectively; and the first Australian city to feature on the list is Melbourne, in 17th place. Brisbane, Canberra, and Adelaide are the next most affordable cities in Australia, but these all fall outside of the top 20; meaning that if you want to move somewhere that offers better value for money, then you could consider relocating to Europe or Canada.

When it comes to the USA, Chicago tops the list, in position 25; followed by Philadelphia, New York, Cambridge, Pasadena, and Stanford.

Outside of Europe, Ankara has the cheapest average house prices at AUD$233,476 (EUR €142,799/USD$155,651) (the city sits in position 48), and Bangalore at AUD$268,327 (EUR€164,115/USD$178,885) (position 47).


The most affordable university cities in Europe

So, now we know that Europe dominates the overall rankings, which cities are actually the most affordable for university students and graduates?

1. Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki comes in first place, with the University of Helsinki ranking first in the country, and 110th globally. Not only that, but Finland has the lowest mortgage rates on our list, at 1.97%.

With average house prices standing at AUD$540,175 (EUR€330,382/USD$360,116), if you’re looking for somewhere to live, then Pasila is popular with students, and it’s also home to a popular theme park, Linnanmäki.

However, if you want to move away from the student lifestyle, then Kallio is a great option – it’s popular with creatives and young professionals due to its wide variety of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.


2. Pisa, Italy

The home of the Leaning Tower makes it into second place, as one of the most affordable cities for students. It has the cheapest average house prices, at just AUD$208,613 (EUR€127,592/USD$139,075), and the joint ninth lowest mortgage rates, at 2.66%. Plus, the city is a great place to study, with Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa ranking second in the country.

If you’re looking to buy a home in Pisa, Cisanello offers some of the cheapest accommodation; but if you want to be close to the nightlife and don’t mind paying a bit more, then San Francesco is the place to be.


3. Barcelona, Spain

Home to Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, and the highest rated university in the country (the University of Barcelona); Barcelona places third on the most affordable student cities.

Its 2.13% mortgage rate is the joint third cheapest, and you can expect to pay around AUD$577,699 (EUR€353,333/USD$385,133) for a property. Horta-Guinardó is popular amongst students and graduates as property prices tend to be cheaper; but if you want to be closer to the beach, have a look at Barceloneta, or El Borne if you want to be within walking distance of some of the best restaurants in the city.


4. Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s capital makes it into a respectable fourth position, with Trinity College Dublin ranking number one in Ireland, and 161 in the world. Mortgage rates here total 3.37%, and you can expect to pay around AUD$506,850 (EUR€310,000/USD$337,900) for a property.

When it comes to choosing an area to move to, you’ve got several options. Stoneybatter has affordable housing, whilst also being home to some of the best restaurants and cafes in the city; but if you’re looking for somewhere cooler, then Portobello is the place to be, with the streets lined with craft beer bars, bottomless brunch spots, and quirky bookshops.


5. Vienna, Austria

Rounding off our top five European cities is Vienna, with its university rated top in the country, and 124th overall. Mortgage rates are lower than Ireland, at 2.85%, although average house prices are more expensive, at AUD$706,982 (EUR€432,405/USD$471,321).

The Wieden area is popular with students, and it’s also got plenty of cute coffee shops and art galleries. However, for somewhere more affordable, you could look at Margareten, or Landstrasse, where you’ll see so many different unique looking and colourful buildings.

Nine out of the top 10 affordable cities on our list are in Europe, with Paris, Bologna, and Oxford (home to the number one rated university in the world) all making the cut.

However, if you look at the data purely from an affordability point of view, Thessaloniki has the second cheapest house costs in Europe on average, at AUD$219,090 (EUR€134,000/USD$146,060), despite placing 45th, and Marseille has the third, at AUD$406,298 (EUR€248,500/USD$270,865), whilst placing 26th.

France has the second cheapest mortgage rates, at 2.05%, and Spain the third, at 2.13%, meaning you can get some of the best rates in Paris, Marseille, Barcelona, and Madrid.

Top tips for saving a house deposit as a student

One of the key things you’ll be thinking about when you’re about to graduate, is deciding where to move to. Will you move back to your hometown, stay in your university city, or move somewhere entirely new?

However, here’s something worth considering: with rental rates rising worldwide, you could save more money in the long run if you can buy your property instead of renting. So, if you want to start saving for a deposit while you’re studying, here are some tips to help you along the way.


1. Do your research beforehand

With it likely being the first time you’ll have bought a house, you won’t have the same experience as your parents when it comes to buying and selling; so doing your research beforehand can help you to make the right decision.

Look at local property prices so you know where – and what type of property – you can afford, and keep an eye on any market fluctuations, so that when it comes to putting your offer in, you can be safe in the knowledge you’re getting a reasonable deal.


2. Budget for the hidden costs

Getting onto the property ladder doesn’t just mean paying your deposit. You’ll need to factor in legal fees and any surveys that need doing to the property, as well as buying furniture, and potentially even hiring a removals van. Looking into this now means you’ll know how much budget you need to set aside, so you don’t end up eating into your entire savings.


3. Start budgeting from day one

Learning how to set yourself a proper budget from the day you start university will help you later in life when it comes to managing your money. Avoid splurging your student loan in one go, and instead, each month, plan out how much you’ll need to set aside for rent, bills, and food, before working out any additional spend, and putting the rest in savings.

Transfer your savings into a separate account straight away to resist the temptation of spending it on night out!

Stephen Zeller, General Manager of Money at Compare the Market Australia states: “Higher education opens up so many doors and provides a great way for students to move abroad, meet new people, and experience new cultures. However, with the worldwide cost of living crisis very much on peoples’ minds, affordability is now one of the most important factors than ever when considering where to live.

“Once you have a deposit saved and are ready to purchase property, make sure that you consider factors such as interest rates and ensure that you are prepared to meet financial obligations should you plan to take out a home loan. Comparing options can help you with choosing a loan that is appropriate for you and your circumstances.”

For more information on understanding the market as a first-time buyer, visit Compare the Market’s page on home loans.

Methodology & Sources


  1. Migration Data Portal – International Students



First, we compiled a list of top universities across the world in relevant countries. This included their world ranking, and respective country ranking, along with the city that they’re located in. We then gathered the mortgage rates for each country, alongside housing prices for each city. We then normalised the data, to give each factor a score of between 0 and 1. The normalised data was then summed and multiplied by 25, to give each university/city a total score out of 100. The universities/cities were then ranked from highest to lowest, based on this total score, with a higher score producing a better ranking.

The factors are as follows:

  • World University Ranking – The global ranking of the university.
  • Country University Ranking – The national ranking of the university.
  • Average House Price – The average house price of the city/town the university is located in, or is closest to.
  • Mortgage Rate – The mortgage rate of the country the university is located in.

The factors were normalised as follows:

  • World University Ranking – High values will get a low score. Low values will get a high score.
  • Country University Ranking – High values will get a low score. Low values will get a high score.
  • Average House Price – High values will get a low score. Low values will get a high score.
  • Mortgage Rate – High values will get a low score. Low values will get a high score.

Google Finance currency converter was used to convert the values on 12/05/23.