Special Report

The Most Educated Countries in the World

10. Australia
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 38.3%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 3.1%
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 6.1% (15th lowest)

Australia has been a popular destination for international students for some time. In 2009, more than 25% of the total population in Australia was foreign-born, the highest percentage of any country reviewed by the OECD. According to The Wall St. Journal, however, foreign students’ interest in Australian tertiary education is declining, and Australian universities have restructured their programs to better compete for international students. Recipients of advanced degrees in Australia have a relatively high chance of finding a job. In 2011, Australian adults who completed advanced research programs had among the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

9. Finland
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 39.3%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 1.7%
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 6.5% (11th highest)

Based on the performance of Finland’s secondary school students on international tests, the country has a very effective education system. Finland’s investment in education continues past secondary school. The Finnish government spent nearly 2% of its GDP on bachelor’s degree equivalent programs, higher than every country reviewed excepting Korea. Finland’s higher education system is almost entirely government-run. Public funding accounted for nearly 96% of all tertiary spending in the country in 2010, more than every other country except for Norway. The OECD average was just 68%.

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8. New Zealand
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 39.3%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 2.9%
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 7.3% (7th highest)

After completing secondary school, many New Zealanders pursue technical, skill-based educations. Of the country’s adults, well over 15% had attained this kind of college education, among the highest proportions among nations reviewed by the OECD. Spending on education in New Zealand amounted to 7.28% of national GDP in 2010, about the same proportion as the United States. An estimated 21.2% of the New Zealand government’s total spending went to education, nearly double the OECD average.

7. United Kingdom
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 39.4%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 4.0%
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 6.5% (12th highest)

About three-quarters of tertiary education in the United Kingdom was funded by private sources in 2010, second only to Chile among countries reviewed by the OECD. This share of private expenditure on tertiary education has more than doubled since the year 2000. Overall spending on education has gone up in the U.K. According to the OECD, that investment has paid off, as evidenced by the country’s increased tertiary graduation rates. Additionally, since 2000, the U.K. has become a preferred destination for international students, second only to the United States.

6. Korea
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 40.4%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 4.9% (6th highest)
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 7.6% (3rd highest)

Koreans have a relatively good chance of finding a job after receiving an education. Just 2.6% of adults in the country with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree were unemployed. This was less than any country reviewed by the OECD with the exception of Norway. Korean teachers have among the best salaries among countries reviewed by the OECD. As a percentage of GDP, spending on tertiary education and advanced research programs in 2010 was the highest among countries reviewed. Most of this did not come from the Korean government. Private expenditure accounted for 72.74% of post-secondary institutions funding, third highest in the OECD.

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