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Over one-quarter of the world’s countries are headed by someone educated in the UK – HEPI 2023 Soft-Power Index

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  • UK finally starts to close the gap with the US, which had been growing since 2018.    

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published the results of its seventh annual Soft-Power Index.

The Index measures the number of serving world leaders (monarchs, presidents and prime ministers) educated at a higher level in countries other than their own.

  • In the first year of the Index (2017), there were more world leaders who had been educated in the UK tertiary sector than in any other country, including the US. But the US overtook the UK in 2018 and extended its lead in each of the four subsequent years – in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
  • The new results for 2023 show, in contrast, that the gap between the number of current world leaders educated in the US and the UK has shrunk for the first time since the Index began: compared to 2022, there are two more countries with a leader educated in the UK and two fewer countries with a leader educated in the US, reducing the gap by four.
  • However, there are still seven more world leaders educated in the US (65), including the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, than in the UK (58). Over the years, the gap has shifted from -1 in 2017, to +1 in 2018, +3 in 2019, +5 in 2020, +7 in 2021 and +11 in 2022 but is now back down to +7 in 2023.
  • There are 195 countries in the world and around one-quarter of them (54 or 28%) have a very senior leader who was educated in the US while a similar number (53 or 27%) have a very senior leader who was educated in the UK. As there is some overlap, with a handful of leaders being educated in both the UK and the US, the total number of countries with a very senior leader who has been educated at a higher level in the US and / or the UK is 84 (43% of the world’s countries).

Both the US and the UK are far ahead of every other country, benefiting from their strong university systems and their international connections as well as having English as the most common language.

France remains in third place, having educated 30 leaders in post in the summer of 2023, down one on 2022, and considerably ahead of Russia in fourth place (on 10, also down 1 since 2022).

World leaders educated in countries other than their own

 2017    2018    20192020    2021    2022    2023    
US5758 (+1)62 (+4)61 (-1)65 (+4)67 (+2)65 (-2)
UK5857 (-1)59 (+2)56 (-3)58 (+2)56 (-1)58 (+2)
UK/US gap    -1+1+3+5+7+11+7
France3440 (+6)40 (+/-0)35 (-5)30 (-5)31 (+1)30 (-1)
Russia910 (+1)10 (+/-0)10 (+/-0)11 (+1)11 (+/-0)10 (-1)

The only other countries that have educated more than five serving world leaders are Switzerland (7), Australia (6), Italy (6) and Spain (6).

The annual Soft-Power Index has become an influential resource since it first began and previous iterations have been regularly quoted by Government Ministers and in official documents – for example:

  • The Government’s International Education Strategy notes: ‘The Higher Education Policy Institute estimates that over 50 serving world leaders have benefited from a British education.’
  • The Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon. Gillian Keegan MP, recently referred to the results of the Index in the House of Commons, on 12 June 2023.

We only count leaders educated outside their own home country. So the fact the UK has recently had a change both to its head of state, from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III, and its Prime Minister, from Boris Johnson via Liz Truss to Rishi Sunak, does not have an impact on the UK’s numbers. However, the US’s total is bolstered by the fact that Rishi Sunak took an MBA at Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar.

In part, the Index reflects past trends, given the gap in time that usually exists between someone’s formal education and reaching a top position in their home country.

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

‘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 dependants mean many UK institutions will have to fight harder to maintain their attractiveness to those outside the country.’

The chart below shows all the countries that have had a very senior leader educated in the UK tertiary system since 2017.

List of countries with at least one senior leader educated in the UK, with the name(s) of the relevant serving leader(s), 2017-2023

Countries in orange are led by someone educated in the UK

Countries in green are led by someone educated in the UK but were not in 2022

Countries in blue were led by someone educated in the UK in 2022 but are no longer

Countries in grey have been led by someone educated in the UK since 2017 but not recently

 2017    2018    2019    2020    2021    2022    2023    
1. Antigua and Barbuda (Gaston Browne)1111111
2. Bahrain (Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa & Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa)2222222
3. Barbados (Mia Mottley)0111111
4. Belgium (King Philippe)1111111
5. Bhutan (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck)1111111
Bosnia and Herzegovina1100000
6. Bolivia (Luis Arce)0000111
7. Brunei (Hassanal Bolkiah)1111111
8. Cameroon (Joseph Ngute)0011111
Costa Rica0111100
9. Cyprus (Nicos Anastasiades)1111111
10. Czechia (Petr Pavel)0000001
11. Denmark (Queen Margrethe II)1111111
12. Dominica (Charles Savarin)1111111
13. East Timor (José Ramos-Horta)0000011
14. Egypt (Abdel Fattah el-Sisi)1111111
15. Fiji (Sitiveni Rabuka)0000001
16. The Gambia (Adama Barrow)1111111
17. Ghana (Nana Akufo-Addo)1111111
18. Guyana (Mark Phillips)1111111
19. Hungary (Viktor Orbán)1111111
20. Iceland (Guðni Th. Jóhannesson)1111111
21. Iraq (Abdul Latif Rashid)1111111
22. Ireland (Michael D Higgins)1111111
23. Japan (Emperor Naruhito)0011111
24. Jordan (King Abdullah II & Bisher Al-Khasawneh)1111222
25. Kuwait (Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah)0000111
26. Lesotho (King Letsie III)1111111
27. Liechtenstein (Hereditary Prince Alois)1111111
28. Luxembourg (Grand Duke Henri)1111111
29. Malaysia (Abdullah of Pahang)2111111
30. Malta (George Vella)1121111
31. Mauritius (Prithvirajsing Roopun & Pravind Jugnauth)2112222
32. Monaco (Prince Albert II)1111111
33. Montenegro (Jakov Milatović)0000001
34. Mozambique (Filipe Nyusi)2222211
35. Namibia (Hage Geingob)1111111
36. Norway (King Harald V)1111111
37. Oman (Haitham bin Tariq)1111111
38. Palestine (Mohammad Shtayyeh)1111111
39. Philippines (Bongbong Marcos)0000011
40. Qatar (Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani)2221111
41. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Ralph Gonsalves)1111111
42. Serbia (Ana Brnabić)1111111
43. Seychelles (Wavel Ramkalawan)0000111
44. Sierra Leone (Julius Maada Bio)0222111
45. Singapore (Lee Hsien Loong)1111111
46. Slovenia0000001
47. Switzerland (Karin Keller-Sutter)0011111
48. Syria (Bashar al-Assad)1111111
49. Tanzania (Samia Suluhu Hassan)0000111
50. Tonga (King Tupou VI and Siaosi Sovaleni)1111122
51. United Arab Emirates (Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan & Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum)2222222
52. Vanuatu (Nikenike Vurobaravu)0000011
53. Zambia (Hakainde Hichilema)0000011
TOTAL5857    59    56    58    56    58    

The 65 world leaders from 54 countries educated in the United States in the summer of 2023 head the following countries:

  1. Bahrain (2: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa & Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa)
  2. Belgium (2: King Philippe & Alexander De Croo)
  3. Belize (1: Juan Briceño)
  4. Bhutan (2: King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck & Lotay Tshering)
  5. Botswana (1: Mokgweetsi Masisi)
  6. Bulgaria (1: Rumen Radev)
  7. Costa Rica (1: Rodrigo Chaves Robles)
  8. Dominica (1: Roosevelt Skerrit)
  9. Dominican Republic (1: Luis Abinader)
  10. East Timor (1: José Ramos-Horta)
  11. Egypt (1: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi)
  12. Eswatini (1: Cleopas Dlamini)
  13. Georgia (1: Salome Zourabichvili)
  14. Greece (1: Kyriakos Mitsotakis)
  15. Guinea-Bissau (1: Nuno Gomes Nabiam)
  16. Guyana (1: Mark Phillips)
  17. Haiti (1: Ariel Henry)
  18. Ireland (1: Michael D. Higgins)
  19. Israel (2: Isaac Herzog & Benjamin Netanyahu)
  20. Ivory Coast (2: Alassane Ouattara & Patrick Achi)
  21. Jordan (2: Abdullah II & Bisher Al-Khasawneh)
  22. Latvia (2: Edgars Rinkēvičs & Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš)
  23. Lebanon (1: Najib Mikati)
  24. Liberia (1: George Weah)
  25. Malawi (1: Lazarus Chakwera)
  26. Marshall Islands (1: David Kabua)
  27. Micronesia (1: Wesley Simina)
  28. Moldova (2: Maia Sandu & Dorin Recean)
  29. Monaco (1: Albert II)
  30. Mongolia (1: Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene)
  31. Montenegro (1: Jakov Milatović)
  32. Namibia (2: Hage Geingob & Saara Kuugongelwa)
  33. Nigeria (1: Bola Tinubu)
  34. Pakistan (1: Arif Alvi)
  35. Palau (1: Surangel Whipps Jr.)
  36. Panama (1: Laurentino Cortizo)
  37. Paraguay (1: Mario Abdo Benítez)
  38. Philippines (1: Bongbong Marcos)
  39. Poland (1: Mateusz Morawiecki)
  40. Rwanda (1: Paul Kagame)
  41. Saint Kitts and Nevis (1: Terrance Drew)
  42. Serbia (1: Ana Brnabić)
  43. Sierra Leone (2: Julius Maada Bio & David Moinina Sengeh)
  44. Singapore (1: Lee Hsien Loong)
  45. Slovenia (1: Robert Golob)
  46. Somalia (1: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud)
  47. South Korea (1: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
  48. Spain (1: King Felipe VI)
  49. Sri Lanka (1: Dinesh Gunawardena)
  50. Switzerland (1: Albert Rösti)
  51. Tanzania (1: Samia Suluhu Hassan)
  52. Togo (2: Faure Gnassingbé & Victoire Tomegah Dogbé)
  53. Tonga (1: King Tupou VI)
  54. United Kingdom (1: Rishi Sunak)

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