Cities That Offer The Highest Return on Overseas Undergraduate Education

A new index created by The Economist Intelligence Unit benchmarks 80 cities by the potential return for foreign students from an undergraduate education at institutions in those cities.


The Sea Turtle Index, created for Shanghai-based Bank of Communications, measures more than just raw educational quality: it also factors in the likely cost of that education, the potential for returns on financial and real-estate investments, the availability of work experience opportunities for overseas graduates, and the depth of cultural experience that an educational location will offer. By these criteria, Montreal comes top, followed by London and Hong Kong.


In Chinese culture, a “sea turtle” is a graduate of an overseas university who has reaped the benefits of a top-rate global education and immersion in another culture, and is typically coveted by employers upon return to his or her home country. (The name is apt in Mandarin as it sounds similar to the phrase “return from overseas”.) In this index, the meaning is extended to any undergraduate student who intends to invest the returns on an international education in his or her home country.


An open environment pays dividends
The importance of an environment that is open both to overseas students and to investments their parents may want to make 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 Montreal 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 well
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.


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 work experience 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 (which in the index includes Cambridge, Massachusetts)—the highest-ranked US city at seventh place overall—despite the exemplary quality of many of its educational institutions. Their relatively lower scores in terms of potential work experience after graduation also count against US cities.

Top 10 Countries Offering The Highest Return on Overseas Undergraduate Education

  1. Montreal
  2. London
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Toronto
  5. Cambridge
  6. Oxford
  7. Boston
  8. Sydney
  9. Zurich
  10. New York


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