Smart cities: The 10 most educated cities in the world

Cities with the highest percentage of university graduates are increasingly on the radar of companies and investors

June 04, 2019

Rising urban populations have been one of the defining mega trends of this century, with people flocking to cities worldwide.

While urban migration shows no signs of slowing, it has not been uniform. Some cities are attracting more university graduates than others. Aside from creating hubs of highbrow conversation, it is building the sort of innovative environments that tend to draw both companies and investors.

“Higher education has always been really important, but the digital economy has only made it more so,” says Carol Hodgson, Senior Director, Global Research at JLL. “With the focus these days firmly on innovation and talent as key drivers of city success, education clearly plays a major role.”

So which cities have the edge?

London sits atop a list of the most educated cities in the world, with nearly 59 percent of residents holding at least a bachelor's degree, according to data from JLL, which analysed 109 cities worldwide.

All cities that made JLL’s top 10 — which includes Washington D.C., Tel Aviv, Oslo and Melbourne — share common traits. Over half their populations hold at least a bachelor's degree. They have at least one globally renowned university. And crucially, their populations of 20 to 40-year-olds is on the rise.

“These cities aren’t just turning out graduates into the workforce. They’re also acting as a magnet for top talent,” Hodgson says. “For commercial real estate markets, it’s a signal that these cities have the ingredients for future success and are set to remain important hubs for innovation and talent.”

Here’s the top 10 most educated cities — per JLL’s Innovation Geographies report — and what’s making them tick.

10. Melbourne, Australia

A regular atop quality-of-life indices, Australia’s second biggest city offers an attractive lifestyle that, when combined with a robust education system and the presence of big-name employers, makes it a big draw for talent from the region and around the world.

With several universities including the University of Melbourne, Monash, and RMIT University, education will remain a key asset for the city.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 50.2 percent

8. Washington D.C, United States

The capital city of the world’s biggest economy pulls in highly-talented workers from across the country, and the globe.

One out of every five employees in the city work in high-tech industries, the third highest globally behind its West Coast counterparts San Jose and San Francisco. Its innovative economy is in part supported by demand for high-tech products and services from the federal government.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 50.8 percent

8. San Jose, United States

The epicentre of Silicon Valley has been home to the U.S. technology industry for decades. It boasts several universities, including Stanford University, which is ranked in the top three globally by both QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education.

In San Jose, 28 percent of the workforce is in high-tech industries, the highest share out of the 109 cities covered in the JLL report. San Jose also ranks as one of the top five cities globally for patents, with more than 20,000 patent applications between 2015 and 2018.

The US$163.5 billion of venture capital funding raised in San Jose between 2016 and 2018 is the second highest of any city globally after San Francisco.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 50.8 percent

7. Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden’s capital is not only an important hub for the country, but for the Nordic region, which has three cities in JLL’s top 10.

Stockholm has produced notable tech unicorns Spotify, Skype and Candy Crush creator King. Its US$2.8 billion in venture capital funding between 2016 and 2018 is more than twice that raised in Helsinki, the Nordic’s other leading start-up hub.

Stockholm’s high concentration of universities and healthcare companies has seen it develop into a research hub for health and life sciences. And its population of 20 to 40-year-olds has been growing at an annual compound growth rate of 1.7 percent over the last 10 years, the highest in Europe, according to JLL.

Population with a bachelor's degree:  51 percent

5. Edinburgh, UK

The capital of Scotland is the UK’s second entry in the top 10.  While Edinburgh is only Britain’s seventh-biggest city, it is the seat for Scotland’s government, and home to its banks, large companies, and the University of Edinburgh, the 6th oldest university in the English-speaking world.

As a leading center for higher education, Edinburgh boasts a growing, youthful demographic, with 35 percent of the population aged between 20-40, more than any other European city, according to the JLL study. This age group is also growing faster in Edinburgh than in other major UK cities.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 51.4 percent

5. Helsinki, Finland

The Finnish capital is well regarded for its high quality of life, public services and urban governance. A strong education system and high spending on research and development (3.6 percent of gross domestic product) has spawned major innovative firms.

Helsinki is known for its close-knit start-up community. The success of local gaming start-ups Rovio and Supercell helped catapult the city onto the global map as a key hub for the gaming industry.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 51.4 percent

4. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich boasts high quality universities, with ETH Zurich ranked among the best in the world for engineering, science and technology, while 17.6 percent of STEM publications from the University of Zurich feature in the top 10 percent most cited publications in their respective field.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 51.6 percent

3. Tel Aviv, Israel

Sitting on the Mediterranean Sea, Israel’s second-most populous city is the economic and tech hub of the country.

Tel Aviv has one of the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world, according to the 2018 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, with the likes of eToro, Waze, Gett, and Fiverr all founded there.

R&D expenditure accounts for 4.3 percent of Tel Aviv’s GDP. By comparison, the average for the 109 cities in the JLL report was just 2.5 percent.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 53.2 percent

2. Oslo, Norway

Norway’s capital city is the highest-ranking Nordic city in the top 10.

Well-known for its high quality of life, Oslo benefits from a strong education system and high fluency levels in English. A relatively small domestic market means businesses tend to have a more global outlook from the outset, JLL says.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 54.3 percent

1. London, UK

London, in addition to having the most highly educated population in the world, also has the most talented workforce, propelled to the top by its world-class universities and a highly educated workforce.

London’s universities have played a vital role in expanding the footprint of the city’s knowledge economy. White City, a designation “opportunity area” for regeneration, has been transformed into a new innovation hub driven by Imperial College’s £2 billion investment in a new 23-acre campus.

In addition, London attracts large numbers of international students and workers. Facebook recently chose London as its base for Whatsapp’s push into payments, citing the city’s multicultural workforce, which comes from many of the countries where the app is widely used as one of the reasons why it chose the U.K. capital.

Population with a bachelor's degree: 58.5 percent