US Retains Top Spot Over UK in Educating Most World Leaders

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

The United States has continued to educate more world leaders than the UK, according to a think tank that tracks where each country’s leaders studied.

But Britain—in second place—still ranks much higher than all other countries in the list.

Since 2017, when the UK educated the most world leaders, the country has continued to fall behind the United States in the rankings, the 2020 Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) “Annual Soft-Power Ranking” report (pdf) states.

“Taking the last four years of results together, we see a clear and consistent pattern: relative to the US, the UK’s position has deteriorated each year,” HEPI said.

However, over one-in-four countries have a leader—defined as a head of state or head of government—educated in the UK.

Soft Power

When a country has educated a high number of people who subsequently lead their own countries, this is equated to the educational host country having influence or “soft power” in the leader’s home country, HEPI explained.

This can then bring diplomatic and trade benefits to the country where the leader was educated.

Graduates gather at Cambridge University
Graduates gather at Cambridge University, England, on Oct. 23, 2010. (Paul Hackett/File Photo/Reuters)

Nick Hillman, director of HEPI and author of the report, said in a statement that the UK’s slide in educating world leaders was “not a complete surprise.”

The “UK’s restrictive approach to international students since 2010″ has played a part in the UK slipping in the rankings, Hillman said.

“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,” he said.

“Things are now changing,” Hillman said, citing a “commitment to refresh” the International Education Strategy, with the June appointment of University of Exeter former vice-chancellor Sir Steve Smith as International Education Champion and the two-year post-study work visas made available to foreign students from last year.

Britain’s International Education Strategy announced in March 2019 set out a five-point plan to help build Britain’s global market share across the education sector and increase the number of international students studying in the UK’s higher education system yearly to 600,000 by 2030.

Hillman said, however, that it would have taken time to see the full effect of the measures, even without the challenges of Brexit and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, and may not be enough to reverse the recent slippage for Britain.

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford in Oxford, United Kingdom
The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford in Oxford, United Kingdom, on April 03, 2020. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Britain, at 57 world leaders educated compared to 62 for the United States, is still second highest this year globally for educating leaders at university level, or the equivalent, and remains far ahead of the next three highest countries—France who educated 35 world leaders, Russia who educated 10, and Australia, who also educated 10.

All 27 EU countries put together, who educated 60 serving world leaders, were only three ahead of the UK, according to the HEPI report, which looked at the leaders of 195 countries recognized by the United Nations.