Special Report

The Most Educated Countries in the World

5. United States
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 42.5%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 1.4% (the least)
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 7.3% (6th highest)

Public spending increased by 5% on average among OECD countries between 2008 and 2010. In the United States, however, spending decreased by 1% during that time. Still, the U.S. spent more than $22,700 per student in 2010 across all levels of education, by far the most among countries reviewed. Once they have 10 years of experience under their belt, American secondary school teachers earn some of the highest salaries for their profession among developed nations. Yet, on average, 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. display the lowest mathematical proficiency out of all the countries assessed by the OECD.

4. Israel
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 46.4%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): n/a
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 7.5% (5th highest)

In Israel, 18- to 21-year-old men and 18- to 20-year-old women are required to enlist in the military. According to the OECD, this has resulted in much lower levels of enrollment for residents in this age group. The average graduate from a tertiary program in Israel also tends to be older than in much of the OECD. Annual spending per student for primary through tertiary education is considerably lower than other well-educated countries. With two American chemists who emigrated from Israel winning the Nobel Prize recently, the country may attempt to boost tertiary funding in the future, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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3. Japan
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 46.4%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 3.0% (14th lowest)
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 5.1% (6th lowest)

Japan spent a smaller percentage of its GDP on education than the average country measured by the OECD. But the country still has one of the most educated populations in the world. Additionally, nearly 23% of Japanese adults were proficient at the highest levels of literacy, roughly double the U.S. proportion. High school graduation rates were also among the best in the world in 2011. According to the OECD, average yearly spending per tertiary student in 2010 was considerably higher than the OECD average, and it is expected to increase.

2. Canada
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 51.3%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 2.3%
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 6.6% (10th highest)

As of 2011, about one in four Canadian adults — the highest proportion in the OECD — had attained a career-oriented, skill-based education. In 2010, Canada spent $16,300 for post-secondary schooling per student annually, second only to the United States, which spent well over $20,000 per student. As a percentage of GDP, Canada spent nearly double the OECD average on the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.

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1. Russian Federation
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 53.5%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): n/a
> Education expenditure as pct. of GDP: 4.9% (5th lowest)

In 2011, more than half of Russia’s population 25 to 64 had attained a tertiary education. Additionally, nearly 95% of adults held at least an upper-secondary qualification at that time, compared with the OECD average of 75%. Russia has, according to the OECD, a “historically strong investment in education.” However, recent news could tarnish Russia’s well-educated image. Reports suggest widespread corruption in the education system, including cheating on standardized tests, selling of doctorates to politicians and the wealthy and fake thesis factories.

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