The 10 Most Educated Countries in the World

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5. New Zealand
> Pct. population with postsecondary education: 40%
> Avg. annual growth rate (1999 – 2009): 3.5% (14th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $29,871 (14th lowest)
> Pop. change (2000 – 2009): 11.88% (8th largest)

New Zealand is not a particularly wealthy country. GDP per capita is less than $30,000, and is the 14th lowest in the OECD. However, 40% of the population engages in tertiary education, the fifth-highest rate in the world. The country actually has a rapidly growing population, increasing 11.88% between 2000 and 2009. This was the eighth-largest increase in the OECD. Part of the reason for the high rate of tertiary graduates is the high output from secondary schools. More than 90% of residents graduate from secondary school.

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4. United States
> Pct. population with postsecondary education: 41%
> Avg. annual growth rate (1999 – 2009): 1.4% (the lowest)
> GDP per capita: $46,588 (4th highest)
> Pop. change (2000 – 2009): 8.68% (12th highest)

The U.S. experienced a fairly large growth in population from 2000 to 2009. During the period, the population increased 8.68% — the 12th highest among OECD countries. Meanwhile, the rate at which the share of the population with a tertiary education is growing has slowed to an annual rate of 1.4% — the lowest among the 34 OECD countries. Just 71% of funding for educational institutions in the country comes from public funds, placing the U.S. sixth-lowest in this measure. Among OECD countries, the largest share of adults with a tertiary education live in the United States — 25.8%.

3. Japan
> Pct. population with postsecondary education: 44%
> Avg. annual growth rate (1999 – 2009): 3.2% (10th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $33,751 (17th lowest)
> Pop. change (2000 – 2009): 0.46% (6th lowest)

In Japan, 44% of the adult population has some form of tertiary education. The U.S. by comparison has a rate of 41%. Japan’s population increased just 0.46% between 2000 and 2009, the sixth-slowest growth rate in the OECD, and the slowest among our list of 10. Japan is tied with Finland for the third-highest upper-secondary graduation rate in the world, at 95%. It has the third-highest tertiary graduation rate in the world, but only spends the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP on tertiary education — the 17th lowest rate in the OECD.

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2. Israel
> Pct. population with postsecondary education: 45%
> Avg. annual growth rate (1999 – 2009): N/A
> GDP per capita: $28,596 (12th lowest)
> Pop. change (2000 – 2009): 19.02% (the highest)

Although there is no data on the percentage of Israeli citizens with postsecondary education dating back to 1999, the numbers going back to 2002 show that growth is slowing dramatically compared to other countries. In fact, in 2006, 46% of adults ages 25 to 64 had a tertiary education. In 2007 this number fell to 44%. Only 78% of funds spent on educational institutions in Israel are public funds. The country is also only one of three — the other two being Ireland and Sweden — where expenditure on educational institutions as a proportion of GDP decreased from 2000 to 2008. Israel also had the largest increase in overall population, approximately 19% from 2000 to 2009.

1. Canada
> Pct. population with postsecondary education: 50%
> Avg. annual growth rate (1999 – 2009): 2.3% (5th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $39,070 (10th highest)
> Pop. change (2000 – 2009): 9.89% (10th highest)

In Canada, 50% of the adult population has completed tertiary education, easily the highest rate in the OECD. Each year, public and private expenditure on education amount to 2.5% of GDP, the fourth-highest rate in the world. Tertiary education spending accounts for 41% of total education spending in the country. In the U.S., the proportion is closer to 37%. In Israel, the rate is 22%. In Canada, nearly 25% of students have an immigrant background.

Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter