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  • Martin Betts

Comparative City Liveability: How has COVID19 changed things?

Updated: Sep 30




There are some people, families, organisations, and governments struggling to maintain hope at the moment as the pandemic continues to impact our daily lives. One major impact of COVID-19 has been a reduction in the numbers of international students relocating to cities to undertake study, become members of communities and economies, and explore the prospect of migration as emerging professionals.


Previous patterns of international study and migration before 2020 were based on assumptions of city preferences informed by word of mouth, marketing campaigns, and assumptions of city attractiveness. Talent attraction and recruitment in the commercial world used similar processes.


These all were based on assumptions that are now out-of-date, aren’t they?  I feel sure there is hope. There will inevitably be a COVID-19 vaccine, a winding back of travel and border restrictions, a resumption of international travel for study and migration, and a restarting of the really significant economic and cultural benefits we all gain from this.


When this happens, there will be a need for up-to-date data of how various cities present as choices for international students and business migrants and mobile professionals. These will need to reflect changed experiences, priorities, practices and reputations that countries, regions and cities will have developed by then, largely through how they have managed, responded to, and come out of the pandemic.


A population of future international students, business migrants and mobile professionals will need a new set of independent and objective benchmarks to guide their decisions.

There will also be scarce resources for investments in rebuilding economies and cities when the pandemic has receded to the point where large-scale travel and migration resumes.

The case to be made for plans for rebuilding and re-investing will have to be offered against opinions formed and positions taken during the unusual and temporary political and economic conditions of this pandemic period.


Many businesses, governments and tertiary education providers will benefit, down the track, from an objective evaluation of the impacts of international study and business migration, to inform post-pandemic decisions. 


I would argue that the time is now to review current city ranking indices such as Mercer’s Quality of living city ranking and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s The Global Liveability Index and the one student city ranking operated by QS as the Best Student Cities.

We need to critique these from the viewpoint of post-pandemic circumstances that will pervade, and almost certainly need a new ranking methodology.


This could be developed with the help of our universities, city and state governments, and the many companies that are dependent on international travel and students.

What we need is to all work together to re-engage future potential international students and professional migrants. We need to find out what they believe will make a city a preferred destination in the post-pandemic environment.

I see great value for our:


• governments, with international education being our third largest export earner,

• universities, that have used international student fee income to create world-class universities and university research, and

• tourism, student accommodation, travel, entertainment and other businesses, that form one of the largest sectors of our economy, to all come together.


As a team, they need to make the new arguments as to why future international students and professional migrants should choose our region as a destination, and provide the data that allows true measures of what makes a great and safe place to be.


I believe it is a project that offers real hope to all of our futures. And I am delighted to have been asked by the Committee for Brisbane to lead and chair the Steering Committee for their project to investigate international “Liveability Indices” and their relevance to contemporary society.


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