Special Report

The Most Educated Countries in the World

10) Ireland
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 39.7%
> Average annual growth rate (2005-2012): 5.2% (4th highest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $16,095 (12th highest)

Nearly 40% of Irish adults between the ages of 25 and 64 had tertiary qualifications in 2012, the 10th highest rate among all countries reviewed by the OECD. This represents a substantial increase from more than a decade ago when just 21.6% of adults had completed some form of higher education. Worsening employment opportunities in recent years may have made higher education more attractive to the country’s residents. More than 13% of the population was unemployed in 2012, one of the highest rates among countries reviewed. The unemployment rate for college-educated adults, however, was considerably lower. Pursuing higher education is especially attractive for citizens of European Union countries because their tuition is heavily subsidized at public institutions in Ireland.

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9) New Zealand
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 40.6%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 2.9% (13th lowest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $10,582 (15th lowest)

The global financial crisis did not have as dramatic an impact on public education spending in New Zealand as it did in many other countries. While public educational expenditure declined in a number of OECD nations between 2008 and 2011, public education spending in New Zealand increased by more than 20% over that time, among the larger increases. Still, spending on higher education is low compared to other developed countries. In 2011, $10,582 was spent per student in the country on tertiary education, less than the OECD average of $13,957. Despite spending less than the average per tertiary student, however, spending on all other forms of education accounted for 14.6% of total public spending in New Zealand, more than any other country reviewed.

8) United Kingdom
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 41.0%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 4.0 (11th highest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $14,222 (16th highest)

While many national economies, including the United States, grew between 2008 and 2012, the United Kingdom’s economy shrunk over that time. Despite the downturn, public education spending as a percentage of GDP increased in the country more than any OECD nation over the same period. The United Kingdom is one of just a few countries with a “sustainable approach to higher education financing,” according to Schleicher. Every student in the country has access to an income-contingent loan, meaning repayment is not required until the student’s income exceeds a certain threshold.