Countries with the Most Educated People

For many decades now, the most developed countries in the world have had the greatest number of educated people. The reason is simple – they have resources to spare on investment in education. However many of the newer economies in recent times have been making up for lost time and have invested considerably in education with the result that rate of growth of educated people in these countries have been significant. Based on education at a glance 2012 report of the Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development’s (OECD), 24/7 Wall St. Identified the 10 countries with the highest proportion of adults with a college degree1.


The country which can boast of having the largest number of educated people is Canada. This is in fact the only nation where more than half of all adults – in numbers 51% - had a tertiary education in 2010. This was up from 40% of the adult population in 2000, when the country also ranked as the world’s most educated. Apart from this tertiary education spending accounts for 41% of total education spending in the country. Incredibly though this is despite the relatively lower percentage of GDP – at 6.1% - that Canada spends on education which is even lower than the average 6.3 % of GDP on education spending among OECD countries.


Israel is a relatively late entry in the OECD but even then it has been known for high investment in education for much of its young timeline. Israel joined OECD in 2010, but it already had 46% of population with tertiary education, much higher than the 31% of the OECD countries. The country’s high school graduation rate was 92% in 2010, well above the OECD's 84% average. Also among all other countries of the world, Israel is noted for devoting one of the greatest percentages of its GDP towards research and development and recently the country has decided to make even primary education free, for children as young as three years.

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Japan has become a by-word for the ultimate in technological advancement. This hardly comes as a surprise considering that the country pours thousands of billions of dollars every year in research. In fact Japan is a world leader in fundamental scientific research, having produced no less than fifteen Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry or medicine. All this makes Japan one of the countries with the highest percentages of population – 45 % - with tertiary education. Even better, the country still had a high school graduation rate of 96%, the second best among all nations in 2010. However recent economic downturn has dimmed professional prospects of the country’s university graduates - according to the Wall Street Journal, 15% of those graduating in the spring of 2012 have been neither employed nor enrolled in further education as of august.


Long years of substantial spending on education have consistently kept the United States high on the list of countries with the most educated people in the world. As of 2010, the country had 42% of the population with tertiary education. To a great extent, this is due to a relatively high percentage of GDP – 7.9% in 2009 – spent on education. In fact the United States was the world’s largest spender on tertiary education in 2009, at 2.6% of GDP. A significant proportion of the country’s most successful people appear to give back to the community here, the majority of funds for higher education, totaling 1.6% of GDP, came from private sources.


New Zealand

Even though New Zealand is not among the wealthiest countries of the world – its GDP per capita is less than $30,000 – nevertheless, 40% of the country’s population engages in tertiary education, the fifth-highest rate in the world. In fact New Zealand has shown one of the most remarkable jumps in the rate of people going for higher education among the countries of the world. While the tiny country’s population grew 13.2% between 2000 and 2010, the number of people with a college or college equivalent education rose from 29% to 41% over the period. To a great extent this rise owes to the country’s open policy towards international students who made 14.2% of tertiary students in 2010.

South Korea

This is another country which has managed one of the highest rates of growth in higher education of its population. Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of South Koreans with a college education or more rose from 24% to 40%. To a large measure this was the result of considerable amount of investment in education at all levels, starting from primary schooling to college education. In 2009, South Korea’s was the country to spend the second highest amount - at 8% of GDP - on education, coming only after Iceland. That year, no country in the study contributed more private funds for education at all levels than South Korea, at 3.1% of GDP, or for tertiary education, at 1.9%.

United Kingdom

This is a country with some of the oldest universities in the modern world – a long history of higher education seems to hold UK in good stead even today when the percentage of its population having completed tertiary education is a healthy 38%. The country’s universities are also popular among students from other nations. International students make up 16% of enrollment. However in recent years, there has been a shift in education funding policy with students being asked to cover more of the cost of higher education than in the past. While in 2000 the percentage of funds from private sources was 14.8%, it rose to 31.1% by 2009.


The Scandinavian countries have long been known to spend some of the largest on education with the result that their population is one of the highest-educated in the world. Finland for instance has 38% of the population with a college degree or above. – little wonder considering that the country spent 6.4% of its gross domestic product on education in 2009, with 97.6% of these funds coming from public sources, more than any country in the report. The popularity of tertiary education among its citizens probably has a more practical basis since Finnish workers with a tertiary education were far more likely to be employed than those without such an education — the unemployment rate was 4.4% for residents with a degree and 8.4% for those without.


In recent years, Australia has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for international students who make up a significant percentage of the country’s tertiary students. In 2010, 21.2% of the tertiary students in Australia came from other countries, higher than every country other than Luxembourg. Overall Australia has 38% of its population with a college degree or above, which has ensured it a place among the ten most highly educated countries in the world.


Ireland is again one of those countries which despite being a late starter have shown one of the most remarkable growth rates in the higher education of its people. From 2000 through 2010, the percentage of people with a college education or more in Ireland nearly doubled, rising at an annual average of 7.3% — faster than any country in the OECD study. This spurt in education was seen at other levels as well with high school graduation rates also rising from 74% to 94% during the same period. Like in many other economies, a college degree has become crucial to getting a job among the male Irish workforce since 6.3% of men with a tertiary education were unemployed in 2010 as opposed to 15.2% for all men nationwide.


  1. 247WallSt - The Most Educated Countries in the World