Montreal offers best return on overseas undergraduate education; Dublin has 26th ranking
By Finfacts Team
Jul 18, 2013 - 8:20 AM

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Montreal is ranked the top city for the best overall return on overseas undergraduate education, followed by London and Hong Kong. Dublin, Ireland has a 26th ranking.

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 China's 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.

Key findings of the index include:

 An open environment pays dividends

  • 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 the city 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.

FAQ about the Sea Turtle Index 

What is a “sea turtle”?

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.

What factors does the index consider?

  • Educational returns: how highly valued the education is elsewhere in the world, balanced against whether it represents good value for money.

  • Financial returns: how open the investment environment is to non-nationals, and how high are policy, economic and currency volatility risks that may affect returns on investments.

  • Real estate returns: the potential of the local real estate market, the likely returns on investment in the form of rent and how taxes will affect those returns.

  • Work experience: the openness of the local job market to overseas skilled applicants, whether overseas students are supported by their university in seeking jobs and whether the local economy offers high-pay, low-tax opportunities.

  • Social experience: whether students are exposed to world-class cultural experiences and can study among a truly multicultural student body.

How was the index constructed?

To compile the index, the EIU ascribed different weightings to sub-indices representing each of the five factors listed above (themselves compiled from a variety of separate indicators). Educational returns received the highest weighting since, ultimately, this factor is likely to influence most people’s decisions more strongly than any other.

How were cities chosen for inclusion in the index?

The index clusters the top 300 universities from the QS World University Rankings in major cities, allowing for richer data and greater regional diversity in results. The EIU used OECD statistics on the percentage of international students going to each country to decide on the number of cities to include per country.

The full index rankings, and a white paper analysing the results, are available at

Bank of Communications is one of China’s top five commercial banks, with around 87,000 employees at home and abroad. Headquartered in Shanghai, it has 2,648 branches in China as well as 11 overseas subsidiaries and representative offices. The bank conducts a wide range of businesses, including banking, financing, insurance, securities, lease and trust services.

Bank of Communications was founded in 1908 and is the oldest modern commercial bank in China. It was reconstructed into modern China’s first nationwide joint-stock commercial bank in 1987 and was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in June 2005.

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