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

HEPI’s Annual Soft-Power Ranking, 2020: The UK slips further behind the US

  • 27 August 2020
  • By Nick Hillman

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published the HEPI Annual Soft-Power Ranking 2020, which looks at the countries that have educated the most serving world leaders.

The results show the UK, which had educated the most world leaders in 2017 but slipped relative to the US in both 2018 and 2019, has fallen even further behind.

  • In 2017, one more world leader had studied at a higher level in the UK (58) than in the US (57).
  • In 2018, there was one fewer world leader who had studied at a higher level in the UK (57) than in the US (58).
  • In 2019, there were three fewer world leaders who had studied at a higher level in the UK (59) than in the US (62).

Now, in 2020, there are five fewer world leaders who studied at a higher level in the UK (57) than the US (62).

The last four years of results therefore show a clear and consistent pattern: relative to the US, the UK’s position has deteriorated each year.

However, the UK is some way ahead of the next three countries: France (35), Russia (10) and Australia (10).

In total, over one-in-four countries around the world (52 out of the 195 recognised by the United Nations) have a head of state and / or a head of government educated in the UK, above all other countries apart from the US (58 countries).

The twenty-seven EU countries together educated three more (60) serving world leaders than the UK.

Countries with a leader educated in the UK tertiary sector

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI and the author of the new Policy Note, said:

It is sad to see the UK falling further against the US in terms of educating the world’s leaders, even though the UK still performs well relative to all other countries. Yet it is not a complete surprise. The situation reflects the policy environment in place before this year, when some other countries were keener than the UK to succeed in the competitive task of recruiting international students.

Things are now changing, with improved post-study work rules, a new International Education Champion and a commitment to refresh the International Education Strategy. However, these welcome measures would have taken time to have their full effect even without Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. With these challenges, the new improved situation may not be enough to reverse the UK’s recent relative decline. As the pandemic eases, we must do all we can to come out of the blocks faster than our main competitors by showing UK universities remain fully open to people from around the world.

International students improve the education and research of their institutions while bringing financial benefits to the UK. The students who come here and the institutions they study at both benefit, as does the country as a whole. As the fight against COVID-19 confirms, collaboration across national boundaries is essential in confronting the world’s great challenges.

Note for Editors

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence. It is the United Kingdom’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded in part by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate.

Leave a Reply

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