Special Report

The Most Educated Countries in the World

7) Australia
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 41.3%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 3.5% (15th highest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $16,267 (11th highest)

More than $16,000 was spent per student on tertiary education in Australia, among the higher rates in the OECD. Australia’s higher education system is one of the most popular among international students, attracting 5% of all foreign students. By comparison, the U.S., which has many times the number of schools, attracted only three times as many foreign students. And higher education seems to pay off for graduates who remain in the country. The unemployment rate among residents with tertiary qualifications was lower than all but a handful of countries reviewed in 2012. Additionally, nearly 18% of adults performed at the highest literacy level in 2012, considerably higher than the OECD average of 12%.

6) Korea
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 41.7%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 4.8% (8th highest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $9,926 (12th lowest)

Despite spending less than $10,000 per student on tertiary education in 2011, less than any other country on this list except for Russia, Korean residents have become among the world’s most educated. While just 13.5% of Korean adults aged 55-64 had completed tertiary degrees in 2012, over two-thirds of 25 to 34 year-olds, had. The 50 percentage points was by far the largest generational improvement among all countries reviewed. Nearly 73% of tertiary education spending came from private sources in 2011, more than all but one other country. High levels of private spending tend to exacerbate inequalities. The growth in educational attainment and educational mobility, however, is likely due to relatively equitable access to higher education in Korea. Koreans were the most likely to access higher education among all countries reviewed, according to the OECD.

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5) United States
> Pct. population with tertiary education: 43.1%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2011): 1.4% (the lowest)
> Tertiary education spending per student: $26,021 (the highest)

In 2011, more than $26,000 was spent on tertiary education per student in the U.S., nearly double the OECD average of $13,957. Private expenditure in the form of tuition fees accounted for the majority of this spending. High education expenditures have paid off to some degree, as a large proportion of U.S. adults have very high levels of qualification. Because of the slow growth rates of the past decade, however, the U.S. has slipped behind many other nations. While spending per tertiary student between 2005 and 2011 increased by 10% across OECD countries on average, U.S. spending decreased over that time. And the U.S. was one of only six countries to cut public education spending between 2008 and 2011. Like other countries where education is controlled by regional authorities, tertiary attainment levels vary widely in the United States, from as little as 29% in Nevada, to as much as 71% in the District of Columbia.