USA and UK top in educating world leaders

The UK has closed the gap on the USA in terms of the number of world leaders educated as international higher education students, according to the annual Soft-Power Index released by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

The analysis by HEPI, a UK-based higher education think tank, shows that the USA educated 65 current world leaders (monarchs, presidents and prime minister), two fewer than in the previous year, while 58 studied in the UK, an increase of two compared with the 2022 Soft-Power Index.

In the first year of publication in 2017 the UK was top of the index, but the USA overtook in 2018 and the gap had widened in every subsequent year until now.

HEPI said in the latest report that 28 per cent of the countries in the world have a senior leader who was educated in the USA, while 27 per cent have a leader who studied at higher education level in the UK.

Examples of world leaders who studied abroad in the USA include the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, King Felipe VI of Spain and South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

France remains in third place on the Soft Power Index with 30 world leaders educated, followed by Russia (10), Switzerland (seven), Australia (six), Italy (six) and Spain (six).

Nick Hillman, 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 USA and the UK have a lead over the rest of the world that remains very difficult to beat.”

He added, “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 student dependents mean many UK institutions will have to fight harder to maintain their attractiveness to those outside the country.”

The HEPI Soft-Power Index, which only counts leaders who have studied outside of their home country, has been quoted in the UK government documents including the International Education Strategy.

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