The number of serving world leaders educated in another country is widely regarded as a proxy for ‘soft power’. When a country has educated a relatively high number of people who go on to lead their own countries, this is thought to reflect the influence of the host country and it may bring diplomatic and trade benefits. International students have been called ‘The best ambassadors a nation has’ and the British Council believes ‘familiarity with the UK matters’.
Each summer, the Higher Education Policy Institute tracks the tertiary education of current heads of state and heads of government and publishes the results as the HEPI Annual Soft-Power Ranking. Past iterations have featured in the Government’s International Education Strategy (March 2019) and are regularly quoted by Ministers.
When we started looking at the education of serving world leaders back in 2015, we looked only at how many world leaders were educated in the UK. However, since 2017, we have also looked at how many were educated in other countries too. In the first year, we found the UK had educated more world leaders than any other country, but the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in 2019.
- In 2017, we noted the ‘UK is (just) number 1 for educating the world’s leaders’: 58 leaders of 49 different countries had studied at a higher level in the UK – compared to 57 leaders of 51 different countries who had studied in in the US.
- In 2018, we noted the ‘UK slips behind the US’: 57 leaders of 52 different countries had studied at a higher level in the UK – compared to 58 leaders of 53 different countries who had studied in the US.
- In 2019, we noted the ‘US extends its lead over the UK’: 59 leaders of 53 different countries had studied at a higher level in the UK – compared to 62 leaders of 55 different countries who had studied in the US.
This year, we find the UK has fallen even further behind the US.
- In 2020, 57 leaders of 52 different countries studied at a higher level in the UK, compared to 62 leaders of 58 different countries who studied in the US.
One or two data points cannot show a trend, but more than two may do so. Taking the last four years of results together, we see a clear and consistent pattern: the UK’s position has deteriorated relative to the US in each year.
However, over a quarter of countries (53 out of 195) are led by someone educated in the UK, which does well compared to every other country except the US.