UK top of the table for educating world leaders

Country’s universities and colleges have educated 58 heads of state and government

August 5, 2017

Universities and colleges in the UK have educated more heads of state and government than any other country in the world, just pipping the US, a new study reveals.

Analysis of the educational background of 377 serving world leaders conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 58 had received their higher education in Britain, one ahead of its nearest competitor, the US. The UK’s alumni, who include monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, come from 49 countries (all member or observer states of the United Nations) ranging from Antigua and Barbuda, Australia and Bahrain to Tuvalu, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Recent additions to the list include Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who took degrees at the University of Oxford and Soas, University of London in the 1960s and 1980s; newly elected Gambian president Adama Barrow, who famously worked as an Argos security guard while studying property management in London; and Serbia’s first lesbian prime minister Ana Brnabić, who took an MBA in marketing at the University of Hull. British-educated kings can be found everywhere from Belgium to Bhutan, presidents from Colombia to Cyprus, and prime ministers from Malaysia to Malta.

After the UK and the US, only France comes close, as an educational destination for 33 world leaders, with Russia (nine) and Australia (eight) lagging far behind in fourth and fifth places.

The last of the 58 world leaders educated in the UK left in 2007, before student flows began to be linked to the current drive to reduce immigration. Like most international students, they returned to their country of origin by the end of their studies, where they pursued the careers that eventually led to the summit of national power.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said that this pointed to an important policy lesson.

“These results show that the UK massively punches above its weight in educating the leaders of the world,” he explained. “This can be a huge benefit for Britain’s diplomatic relations. Not only do these leaders have a British qualification that helped them to reach the top, they have also spent time here, which creates a strong sense of loyalty to this country. It’s a real source of soft power, and a fantastic advert for our universities around the world: they have helped so many international students to reach the top.

“The last Conservative manifesto promised a new crackdown on international students but that would be catastrophic to our influence around the world.”

The study is based on desk research carried out in July 2017 and excludes world leaders who obtained their qualifications by distance learning or correspondence. 

matthew.reisz@timeshighereducation.com

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