12 world leaders who attended UK universities

Some of the world’s most powerful graduates demonstrate the influence of UK universities

September 14, 2013

When Vince Cable addressed the Universities UK conference on 11 September 2013, he remarked on the value of the links that the country has with senior figures around the world because of the time they spent as students at UK universities.

This ‘soft power’ is embodied most visibly by the prime ministers, chancellors and presidents who studied in the UK in their younger years - and here, we list 12 of them.

Elio Di Rupo, prime minister of Belgium

12. Elio Di Rupo, prime minister of Belgium since December 2011

Our first UK-educated leader (they are listed alphabetically by country, before you ask about the methodology) is Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo, who completed a PhD in chemistry at the University of Leeds, where he was also a lecturer in the late 1970s.

Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia

11. Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia since August 2010

Second on the list is Juan Manuel Santos, who graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a master’s degree in “science in economic development” in 1975.

Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark

10. Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark since 1972

Our third world leader, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, spent time at two UK universities in the 1960s, studying prehistoric archaeology at the University of Cambridge (Girton College) before attending the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland

9. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland since 1996

Next up is Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who attended the University of Manchester between 1962 and 1970, earning a PhD in political science.

Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India

8. Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India since 2004

Our fifth UK-educated world leader is Indian premier Manmohan Singh, who studied economics at the University of Cambridge (St John’s College) in 1952, and completed a doctorate at the University of Oxford (Nuffield College) 10 years later.

Michael Higgins, president of Ireland

7. Michael Higgins, president of Ireland since 2011

At number 6 is another entry for the University of Manchester, where Irish prime minister Michael Higgins spent three years studying sociology in the late 1960s.

Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia

6. Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia since 2009

Our first UK-educated leader from the Far East is Malaysian premier Najib Razak, who gained a bachelor’s degree in industrial economics from the University of Nottingham in 1974.

Harald V, King of Norway

5. Harald V, King of Norway since 1991

More Scandinavian royalty at number 8. King Harald v of Norway studied economics at the University of Oxford (Baliol College) in the early 1960s.

Aníbal Cavaco Silva, president of Portugal

4. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, president of Portugal since 2006

Portuguese premier Aníbal Cavaco Silva is an alumnus of the University of York, after obtaining a doctorate in economics from the institution in 1973.

Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore

3. Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore since 2004

Back to East Asia for the tenth name on our list. Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) in the 1970s.

Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey

2. Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey since 2007

Our penultimate world leader is Abdullah Gül, prime minister of Turkey, who was a post-graduate economics student at the University of Exeter in the mid-1970s.

David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom

1. David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom since 2010

Last but not least is University of Oxford graduate David Cameron, prime minister of the UK, who studied politics, philosophy and economics at Brasenose College, graduating in 1988.

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Reader's comments (1)

Very interesting. I wonder if we will see more women on this list over time....

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