Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

UK slips behind the US, which takes the number one slot, for educating the world’s leaders

  • 14 August 2018
  • By Nick Hillman

The United States has become the country that has educated more serving world leaders than any other, just displacing the UK from the top spot.

Among serving monarchs, presidents and prime ministers who undertook higher education abroad, 58 were educated in the US while 57 were educated in the UK, reversing last year’s positions.

The two English-speaking countries remain some way ahead of other nations. However, France, which remains in third place, has performed more strongly this year: in 2018, 40 world leaders were educated in France, six more than in 2017.

Top countries for educating the world’s leaders


Number of leaders educated, 2018
1. US


2. UK


3. France


4. Russia


5. Australia


6.= Switzerland


6.= Canada


8. Portugal


9. Austria


10.= Egypt, Germany, Lebanon, South Africa, Spain, India, Belgium, Netherlands, Senegal



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

You build up incredible soft power if you educate the leading lights of other countries. In the past, we have been more successful than any other country in attracting the world’s future leaders. But these new figures suggest our position could be slipping.

To ensure this does not become a long-term trend, we need to adopt a bold educational exports strategy, remove students from the main migration target and roll out the red carpet when people come to study here.

One practical way to make all that happen would be to end the Home Office having complete control over student migration and to share it across government departments instead, as they do in other countries.

Tom Huxley, an independent researcher who completed the study for HEPI, said:

These results show that, while Britain’s higher education system remains among the best in the world, it faces unprecedented competition for ambitious students from other countries.

The government must take student numbers out of its migration target and allow our universities to attract more of the world’s best and brightest to study here. Otherwise, we are at risk of losing our strong links to future world leaders.

Notes to Editors

  • The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) undertook desk research in early August 2018 to find out which world leaders – presidents, monarchs and prime ministers – in each country that is a member (or observer) of the United Nations undertook higher education abroad.
  • Those who studied in the US include 58 people in leadership positions in 53 countries and those who studied in the UK include 57 people in leadership positions in 52 countries. Those who were educated in the UK are in leadership positions in the following countries: 1) Antigua and Barbuda; 2) Armenia; 3) Australia; 4) Bahrain; 5) Barbados; 6) Belgium; 7) Bhutan; 8) Bosnia and Herzegovina; 9) Brunei; 10) Burma; 11) Costa Rica; 12) Cyprus; 13) Denmark; 14) Dominica; 15) Egypt; 16) The Gambia; 17) Ghana; 18) Guyana; 19) Hungary; 20) Iceland; 21) Iran; 22) Iraq; 23) Ireland; 24) Italy; 25) Jordan; 26) Lesotho; 27) Liechtenstein; 28) Luxembourg; 29) Malawi; 30) Malaysia; 31) Malta; 32) Mauritius; 33) Monaco; 34) Mozambique; 35) Namibia; 36) Nigeria; 37) Norway; 38) Oman; 39) Pakistan; 40) Palestine; 41) Peru; 42) Qatar; 43) Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; 44) Serbia; 45) Sierra Leone; 46) Singapore; 47) Somalia; 48) Syria; 49) Tonga; 50) Tuvalu; 51) United Arab Emirates; and 52) Yemen. A spreadsheet, with more detailed information from the study, is available separately.
  • The Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, has the University of Cambridge in his educational history and has been included in this study as having studied in the UK, although there is controversy over exactly what he did in Cambridge. In the past, it was claimed that George Weah, the former professional footballer who is the President of Liberia, had studied with Parkwood University in London, but this was part of the University Degree Program (UDP) and a diploma mill with no degree-awarding powers – it has been described as ‘the university of spam’. He is therefore excluded from the figures for the UK.
  • Incoming leaders yet to take up their posts are included. So, for example, Imran Khan (Pakistan), who was educated in the UK, and Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay), who was educated in the US, are included; however, as their predecessors were educated in the same countries, this makes no difference to the headline results.
  • People who studied as distance learners are excluded because any soft-power benefits are likely to be lower. The Presidents of Ethiopia and Rwanda and the President-elect of Zimbabwe completed UK qualifications via correspondence, and we believe the Prime Minister of the Bahamas did as well.
  • World leaders’ biographical information is of variable accessibility and quality. Some nations may be omitted due to a lack of reliable sources and others are included despite there only being limited background detail – for example there are sources showing that the Prime Minister of Bahrain studied in England between 1957 and 1959, but not what or where.
  • Nine leaders studied at the University of the West Indies (UWI), which serves Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Attempting to unpick in which of these countries each leader took their UWI course is beyond the scope of this study. Therefore, we have assumed that each one studied in their home nation.
  • HEPI’s similar study from 2017, which used the same methodology, is available here:
  • HEPI ( was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *