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Over one-quarter of the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK and another quarter are headed by someone educated in the US – HEPI’S 2023 SOFT-POWER INDEX 

  • 22 August 2023
  • By Nick Hillman
  • UK finally starts to close the gap with the US.

The Higher Education Policy Institute ( has published the results of its seventh annual Soft-Power Index.

The Index measures the number of serving world leaders (monarchs, presidents and prime ministers) educated at a higher level in countries other than their own.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to last year, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • However, there are still seven more world leaders educated in the US (65), including the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, than in the UK (58). Over the years, the gap has shifted from -1 in 2017, to +1 in 2018, +3 in 2019, +5 in 2020, +7 in 2021 and +11 in 2022 but is now back down to +7 in 2023.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have at least one very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Both the US and the UK are far ahead of every other country, benefiting from their strong university systems and their international connections as well as having English as the most common language.

France remains in third place, having educated 30 leaders in post in the summer of 2023, down one on 2022, and considerably ahead of Russia in fourth place (on 10, also down 1 since 2022).

The only other countries that have educated more than five serving world leaders are Switzerland (7), Australia (6), Italy (6) and Spain (6).

The annual Soft-Power Index has become an influential resource since it first began and is regularly quoted by Government Ministers and in official documents – for example:

  • The Government’s International Education Strategy notes: ‘The Higher Education Policy Institute estimates that over 50 serving world leaders have benefited from a British education.’
  • The Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon. Gillian Keegan MP, recently referred to the results of the Indexin the House of Commons, on 12 June 2023.

We only count leaders educated outside their own home country. So the fact the UK has recently had a change both to its head of state, from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III, and its Prime Minister, from Boris Johnson via Liz Truss to Rishi Sunak, does not have an impact on the UK’s numbers. However, the US’s total is bolstered by the fact that Rishi Sunak took an MBA at Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar.

In part, the Index reflects past trends, given the gap in time that usually exists between someone’s formal education and reaching a top position in their home country.

Nick Hillman, the Director of HEPI, said:

The number of world leaders educated in other countries reflects the standing of different educational systems and is a good proxy for the amount of soft power held by different countries. It is a phenomenal achievement that over one-quarter of the countries in the world have a very senior leader – a head of state or prime minister – educated in the UK.

It is no accident that the countries that top the global university league tables are the same ones that educate the most people who go on to head up their own countries. We now have seven years of data, which confirm beyond all doubt that the US and the UK have a lead over the rest of the world that remains very difficult to beat.

When we published the results last year, we noted there was a more propitious environment for international students in the UK due to recent policy changes, but the dial has since been turned back somewhat. Recent rhetoric from the Home Office and incoming tougher rules on students’ dependants mean many UK institutions will have to fight harder to maintain their attractiveness to those outside this country.

The list below shows all the countries that have a leader educated in the UK tertiary system. It can be downloaded in Excel here:

The 65 world leaders from 54 countries educated in the United States in the summer of 2023 head the following countries:

  1. Bahrain (2: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa & Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa)
  2. Belgium (2: King Philippe & Alexander De Croo)
  3. Belize (1: Juan Briceño)
  4. Bhutan (2: King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck & Lotay Tshering)
  5. Botswana (1: Mokgweetsi Masisi)
  6. Bulgaria (1: Rumen Radev)
  7. Costa Rica (1: Rodrigo Chaves Robles)
  8. Dominica (1: Roosevelt Skerrit)
  9. Dominican Republic (1: Luis Abinader)
  10. East Timor (1: José Ramos-Horta)
  11. Egypt (1: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi)
  12. Eswatini (1: Cleopas Dlamini)
  13. Georgia (1: Salome Zourabichvili)
  14. Greece (1: Kyriakos Mitsotakis)
  15. Guinea-Bissau (1: Nuno Gomes Nabiam)
  16. Guyana (1: Mark Phillips)
  17. Haiti (1: Ariel Henry)
  18. Ireland (1: Michael D. Higgins)
  19. Israel (2: Isaac Herzog & Benjamin Netanyahu)
  20. Ivory Coast (2: Alassane Ouattara & Patrick Achi)
  21. Jordan (2: Abdullah II & Bisher Al-Khasawneh)
  22. Latvia (2: Edgars Rinkēvičs & Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš)
  23. Lebanon (1: Najib Mikati)
  24. Liberia (1: George Weah)
  25. Malawi (1: Lazarus Chakwera)
  26. Marshall Islands (1: David Kabua)
  27. Micronesia (1: Wesley Simina)
  28. Moldova (2: Maia Sandu & Dorin Recean)
  29. Monaco (1: Albert II)
  30. Mongolia (1: Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene)
  31. Montenegro (1: Jakov Milatović)
  32. Namibia (2: Hage Geingob & Saara Kuugongelwa)
  33. Nigeria (1: Bola Tinubu)
  34. Pakistan (1: Arif Alvi)
  35. Palau (1: Surangel Whipps Jr.)
  36. Panama (1: Laurentino Cortizo)
  37. Paraguay (1: Mario Abdo Benítez)
  38. Philippines (1: Bongbong Marcos)
  39. Poland (1: Mateusz Morawiecki)
  40. Rwanda (1: Paul Kagame)
  41. Saint Kitts and Nevis (1: Terrance Drew)
  42. Serbia (1: Ana Brnabić)
  43. Sierra Leone (2: Julius Maada Bio & David Moinina Sengeh)
  44. Singapore (1: Lee Hsien Loong)
  45. Slovenia (1: Robert Golob)
  46. Somalia (1: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud)
  47. South Korea (1: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
  48. Spain (1: King Felipe VI)
  49. Sri Lanka (1: Dinesh Gunawardena)
  50. Switzerland (1: Albert Rösti)
  51. Tanzania (1: Samia Suluhu Hassan)
  52. Togo (2: Faure Gnassingbé & Victoire Tomegah Dogbé)
  53. Tonga (1: King Tupou VI)
  54. United Kingdom (1: Rishi Sunak)

Notes for Editors

  1. 1. World leaders are defined as heads of state and heads of government (such as monarchs, presidents and prime ministers). Countries typically have more than one leader, such as a president or a monarch plus a prime minister.
  2. Countries are included if they are members of, or observers at, the United Nations, currently numbering 195 places. This means, for example, that Palestine is included but Northern Cyprus is excluded.
  3. The Soft-Power Index is a measure of tertiary education only. In general, this is defined broadly, but distance learning and transnational education are excluded on the grounds that the soft-power benefits – but not the educational benefits – are considered to be lower.
  4. Leaders change throughout the year, so we provide a snapshot for the start of August 2023. Each country is treated equally and we do not claim each individual result provides good evidence of positive soft power: no one is excluded on moral grounds. 
  5. Some people are educated in more than one other country and they can therefore count towards the totals for more than one country.
  6. The educational background of some national leaders is opaque. For example, there are seven leaders for whom we have been unable to find out any information about their higher education, though it is likely many of them did not obtain any higher education. HEPI particularly welcomes any feedback that would enable us to build up a more complete picture.
  7. When new information comes to light, we update the figures for past years: for example, as a result of new (though still incomplete) information on the Emir of Kuwait’s education, the UK totals for 2021 and 2022 have risen by one apiece and as a result of new information coming to light on the Prime Minister of Mali, the 2021 and 2022 totals for Russia have also risen by one.
  8. King Charles III is the head of state for 14 Commonwealth countries other than the UK and, arguably, all 14 could therefore be included in the total for the UK. Were this to occur, it would put the UK comfortably in first place. However, King Charles’s higher education was delivered in the UK (at the University of Cambridge), the country where he was born and lives, and he is head of state of other countries in part by virtue of his position in the United Kingdom. So we have opted to exclude this information. This matches how we have always treated the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, who is one of the heads of state (Co-Prince) of Andorra.
  9. HEPI’s other work on international students, much of which has been undertaken with other organisations – including Kaplan International Pathways, London Economics and the Universities UK International Unit – can be found on the HEPI website. In 2022/23, this work included a Policy Note on how employers regard the Graduate Route visaand a detailed new assessment of the net economic contribution of international students by parliamentary constituency.
  10. 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 higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity. Earlier iterations of the Soft-Power Index remain available to consult on the HEPI website.


  1. Sijbolt Noorda says:

    “Educated in US or UK” is a very imprecise statement. My study abroad experience in the US didn’t make me someone who is “educated in US”. That was only part of my educational experience. Outside US or UK it isn’t exceptional that students opt for a year abroad. Which makes them more international or cosmopolitan, rather than more UK or US. Please correct this.

  2. Arti Kumar says:

    I see pride and competition as underlying drivers for this post. Is this what the world needs now? What type of leadership and what type of world has been created by Western education?

  3. What factors do you believe have contributed to the UK’s narrowing of the gap with the US in terms of educating world leaders?

  4. Lateef Adeola Yussuf says:

    Study abroad , UK or US makes us to believe what is termed as “Best practices”.
    All academic research and innovations must visit UK or US.
    World leaders attending UK or US institutions might have come with special orientation or skills which i cannot explain because i am not a president, prime minister yet.
    Absolutely, this research findings are quite informative!

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