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Now that’s what we call soft power: 55 world leaders educated in the UK

  • 1 October 2015

HEPI has undertaken a small piece of desk research which reveals that 55 world leaders (Presidents, Prime Ministers and monarchs) from 51 countries attended higher-level education in the UK.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

‘The Home Office wants to restrict the number of foreigners coming to study here while other parts of Government recognise the economic benefits. It is a straight fight pitching security against economics. That’s a tragedy because all sorts of other advantages are being ignored.

‘We punch above our weight internationally partly because of the soft power benefits that arise from educating the world’s leaders. It is staggering that 55 world leaders should have studied in a country of the UK’s size, yet we benefit enormously from the fact that they did.

‘The competition for international students is much fiercer than it used to be and we risk being left behind. As the declining number of students coming to the UK from places like India makes clear, we are currently damaging our links to parts of the world with which the UK’s history has long been intertwined.

‘There’s a patriotic as well as an internationalist case for teaching people from around the world. We forget it at our peril.’

Notes for Editors

1. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) undertook desk research in September 2015 analysing the education of world leaders (defined as monarch, prime minister or president) and found 55 who had undertaken higher education in the UK from 51 countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bahrain, Botswana, Brunei, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Fiji, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jordan, Kiribati, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, São Tomé and Príncipe, Singapore, Syria, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Yemen, plus three places where sovereignty is contested – Palestine, Kosovo and Somaliland). Other global leaders who have studied UK higher education qualifications include Robert Mugabe and Paul Kagame, who undertook distance learning, but these are not included.

2. Other HEPI research published earlier in 2015 found that students and higher eduction applicants believe there are benefits from studying as part of a diverse student body ( and

3. Finding out the education of all world leaders is not always an easy task. So, if you spot any errors, please email [email protected] or leave a comment below.



  1. It doesn't add up... says:

    Of these 55 leaders, only 2 came here since the substantial increase in foreign student numbers took place. Of course, you might be right in pointing out that more recent students are still too young to have attained leadership except in some cases where it is inherited, not earned. Yet the explosion in foreign student numbers has provided no more potential foreign leaders, because the numbers of students who leave after their studies has remained almost unchanged for over 25 years, while the numbers who remain in the UK have ballooned:

    Perhaps we would be just as influential if we returned to the policy that applied before the mid 1990s, when an effort was made to select the students who came here rather than doling out visas like sweets.

    1. Schet McArthur says:

      I certainly do not agree with the case being the UK giving out visas like sweets. On the contrary, actually. The immigration figures have grown similarly in the US, Canada and Australia but they don’t seem to be having a problem attracting the best minds. It’s the age of globalization, what do you expect!? We send tens of thousands of our own students to be educated for free in the EU and benefit greatly from their system.

      Equating apples and oranges isn’t the way to go. 25 years of increased global education migration doesn’t mean they necessarily stayed on in the UK. I think there is too much credit taken for that. There is illegal immigration, yes. But how about half the student population of universities like Imperial College and LSE who have worked hard to be there, and clearly are there due to merit? How about the ones in Oxbridge?

      We also need to keep an open mind when it comes to employment during studies, if students can pay 40k just to study there, I don’t think they are financially needy. They might just need post-graduate work experience, which is crucial to employment today. Canada offers 2 years visa, USA offers similar to STEM graduates.

      We have some of the best universities, yes. But so do other countries, time to stop thinking that people need to be proud to be here. It’s the other way round, actually. We have such record low levels of talent that our own healthcare system is failing, technology sector is nowhere as large as the states, the financial services are in incline and we blame it on the poor international students who come here, beating the quota and competing against the world for those 10 spots at Oxbridge. When our people do not seem to want to work for those A*, STEM degrees and employment, do we really think it is in our benefit to stop the wheel from moving entirely by not letting those who can come in to take the jobs?

      Preference in universities and jobs has always been in favor of UK students, there are quotas and strict regulations for everything an international student does from working part-time to seeking employment, if our people can’t keep up then I doubt it is the hard working foreign student’s fault that he/she is willing to work his arse off. Talk to the real students, I don’t think many of those who come here need benefits if they are indeed paying 40k a year. They can afford a much better lifestyle than most of us. I think the key is to understand that a good education involves hands on experience. Quite the contrary, it is those on benefits that seem to be dissatisfied that the international students are succeeding despite every odds against them.

      If we’re really that good, why are we scared of competition?

  2. Robin Sloan says:

    I think the list is missing An Sang Su Chi (Myanmar) – St Hughes Oxford and if I am not mistaken the new Chief Executive of HK.

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