The Most Educated Countries in the World

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5. New Zealand
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 41%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 3.5% (13th highest)
> GDP per capita: $29,711 (17th lowest)

The tiny country’s population has grown 13.2% between 2000 and 2010, as has the country’s education system. The number of people with a college or college equivalent education rose from 29% to 41% over the period. The country also has become a destination of choice for international students, who made up 14.2% of tertiary students in 2010. New Zealand is also a leader in educating scientists, with 16% of students choosing a science for their field of study at the tertiary level — the highest proportion of any country.

4. United States
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 42%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 1.3% (2nd lowest)
> GDP per capita: $46,548 (4th highest)

Although the U.S. is one of just a few nations where more than 40% of people had a tertiary education in 2010, its education system is not without problems. Among the concerns, the graduation rate for upper secondary students in 2010 was 77%, well below the average rate of 84% for the OECD. Even though graduation rates were relatively low, the U.S. is one of the biggest spenders on education, with related expenditures equaling 7.3% of GDP in 2009. The U.S. was also the world’s largest spender on tertiary education in 2009, at 2.6% of GDP. The majority of funds for higher education, totaling 1.6% of GDP, came from private sources.

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3. Japan
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 45%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 2.9%  (10th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $33,785 (18th highest)

In 2009, Japan spent 1.6% of GDP on college or college equivalent education, on par with the OECD’s average, and just 5.2% of GDP on education overall, well below the OECD’s 6.3% average. Despite its relatively light spending, the country still had a high school graduation rate of 96%, the second best among all nations in 2010, while the percentage of its population with a tertiary education was 14 percentage points higher than the OECD’s average. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, recent university graduates in Japan have struggled to find work, with 15% those graduating in the spring of 2012 neither employed nor enrolled in further education as of August.

2. Israel
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 46%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): N/A
> GDP per capita: $26,531 (13th lowest)

Israel only joined the OECD in 2010. That year, its GDP per capita was more than $7,000 below the OECD’s average. Despite this, the country’s high school graduation rate was 92% in 2010, well above the OECD’s 84% average. Some 46% of residents had a tertiary education, versus 31% for the OECD. Israel spent 7.2% of GDP on educational institutions in 2009, the sixth most among all nations. And for the first time, preschool education will become free in 2012 even for children as young as three years old, Haaretz newspaper reported. This should benefit Israel as, according to the OECD, “early childhood education is associated with better performance later on in school.”

1. Canada
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 51%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 2.4% (5th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $39,050 (11th highest)

Canada is the only nation where more than half of all adults 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. Canada has managed to become a world leader in education without being a leader in education spending, which totaled just 6.1% of GDP in 2009, or less than the 6.3% average for the OECD. A large amount of its spending went towards tertiary education, on which the country spent 2.5% of GDP, trailing only the United States and South Korea. One of the few areas Canada did not perform well in was attracting international students, who made up just 6.6% of all tertiary students — lower than the OECD’s 8% average.

Michael B. Sauter and Alexander E. M. Hess

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