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More world leaders studied in US as UK lags behind

The UK has fallen further behind in HEPI's soft power index. Photo: Unsplash.

The UK has fallen further behind, having educated 55 current world leaders

The think tank today published its annual analysis of how many leaders were educated in countries other than their own, showing that the US continues to dominate with 67 serving world leaders taught there. 

Meanwhile the UK has fallen further behind, laying claim to the education of 55 current world leaders – down two on last year and placing the country second in the ranking. 

The UK topped the index when it was first published in 2017, having taught 58 leaders compared to the US’s 57, but the US overtook the UK in 2018 and the gap has continued to widen each year since. 

“The US has gradually built up a commanding lead that seems unbeatable”

France remained in third place having taught 31 leaders, followed by Russia which educated 10. 

Also on the list are Australia and Switzerland, which both educated seven, Canada and Germany with six, and Italy and South Africa with five. 

HEPI defines world leaders as heads of state and heads of government including monarchs, presidents and prime ministers. The Queen of the United Kingdom is excluded as she did not attend university. 

Current leaders educated in the UK include Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Japanese emperor Naruhito. 

Educating people from other countries is understood to be a measure of soft power. A 2013 report from the British government found that foreign UK alumni had a “positive understanding” of the UK’s culture and values, as well as trust in the country that led to an improved outlook on trade and diplomatic relations. 

“When we began, the UK was – just – at the top of the tree,” said Nick Hillman, director of HEPI.

“In each year since, the UK has continued to perform well but the US has gradually built up a commanding lead that seems unbeatable, at least in the short term.”

Hillman pointed out that the recent removal of police registration for international students and the introduction of a graduate route in 2021 were both likely to improve the UK’s international standing. 

HEPI notes that its index is a “rough-and-ready” measure that should be supplemented with other information before drawing firm conclusions. 

Hillman said there are “numerous” ways that universities can support soft power. 

“For example, transnational education or capacity building in the developing world, neither of which are covered by our Soft-Power Index,” he told The PIE News

“Another way is through building truly international research teams, either by direct employment or by working with partners abroad. A third is keeping in touch with their international alumni after they have left the country.”

It comes as UK universities and the government face calls to limit the number of international students allowed into the country, following the release of domestic student A-level results. 

Responding to this, Hillman said, “International students improve the experience of all students by diversifying our campuses and underwriting the financial position of UK universities.

“It would be better if the next prime minister were to continue the opening up of UK higher education to international students that has taken place recently. They should reject the more restrictive approach followed between 2010 and 2019.”

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