Sep 12, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The UK’s higher education institutes have educated more of the world’s leaders than any other country, according to a new study from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). Here’s a closer look at the findings, including why the UK comes out on top along with what it means for international students.

A Boost for British Influence

HEPI data reveals that of 377 serving heads of state and heads of government, 58 attended UK colleges and universities. The US trails just being with 57, while France, Russia and Australia round out the top five with 33, 9, and 8, respectively. (Distance learners were not included in the calculations because “the soft-power benefits to the UK are likely to be lower.)

Said Director of HEPI Nick Hillman, “These results show the UK punches massively above its weight in educating the leaders of the world. This is of huge benefit to British influence, and could be especially useful as we negotiate Brexit….Not only do these leaders have a British qualification that helped them reach the top, they have also spent time here creating a strong sense of loyalty to the UK. It’s a source of real soft power, and a fantastic testament to the quality of our universities.”

The Meaning for Migration

According to HEPI, all of the leaders represented in the analysis -- including Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi; recently-elected Gambian President Adama Barrow; and the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull -- studied in the UK prior to current migration targets and returned to their countries of origin upon completion of their studies.

Continued Hillman, “The 2017 Conservative election manifesto promised a new crackdown on international students. This survey proves that would be catastrophic to our influence around the world. It is one higher education promise that almost everyone wants to see broken.”


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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