Which Australian city has the best universities and lowest housing costs?

Australian universities have a global reputation for excellence, with many of our universities ranking in the global top 100 or top 50 rankings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our universities are attracting a growing number of international students. In fact, Australia is now the fourth most popular country in the world for international students and the sector added $28 billion to our economy in the last financial year.

Enrolments across our universities are growing – from both domestic and international students – with Sydney and Melbourne, our two largest cities, representing the largest share of university enrolments out of all our capital cities.

Sydney and Melbourne also account for four of the seven Australian universities ranked in the QS World University Rankings top 100, with Canberra (ANU), Brisbane (University of Brisbane) and Perth (University of Western Australia) taking the other 3 spots.

The great rivalry – Sydney vs Melbourne

Sydney and Melbourne are known for a longstanding rivalry. Sydney has sunshine, beaches, the harbour, the biggest economy, the largest population and the oldest and arguably most iconic university campus.

sydney university

Melbourne is the nation’s cultural and sporting capital, with a population that’s set to outpace Sydney’s by 2026 and a university that outranks Sydney: The University of Melbourne.

Sydney and Melbourne’s global top 100 universities

  • The University of Melbourne ranked 39th in the world
  • The University of Sydney ranked 42nd in the world
  • The University of New South Wales ranked 45th in the world
  • Monash University ranked equal 59th in the world.

While higher education enrolments are up in both NSW and VIC, the latest data from the Australian Government shows that it’s our Victorian universities that are showing the strongest upward trend in enrolments.

Higher education student enrolments (domestic and international)

Our Victorian universities are also the most popular for international students. In the 2017 financial year, NSW added 129,653 international students. During the same period, Victoria added 156,952 international students.

Perhaps more significantly, since 2005, Victorian universities have outpaced NSW’s international student enrolments by a significant margin.

International student enrolments

Cost of living

Apart from its higher-ranking university, Melbourne also offers another appealing factor for students. Compared to Sydney, renting a home in Melbourne is significantly more affordable.

Students in Sydney would have to pay a 24% premium to rent a house, or a 29% premium to rent an apartment, compared to Melbourne. This is despite Sydneysiders earning only a 13% premium compared to Melbournians.

For a student who wants to live within walking distance of their university of choice, despite a pullback in the Sydney market, there is still a premium for living and studying  at the University of Sydney as compared to the University of Melbourne.

Renting within walking distance of University of Sydney vs University of Melbourne

“Higher education is a big business for Australia. Over $10 billion for the NSW economy and over $9 billion for Victoria. With Sydney and Melbourne universities offering a comparable global reputation, it will be interesting to see where students will choose to study, given the rental premium in Sydney,” said Ironfish Head of Property, William Mitchell.

“This is a trend Ironfish Research will continue to watch, as we expect property in close proximity to top universities to benefit from the growing higher education sector.”


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