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The Most Educated Countries in the World


3. Japan

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 45%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 2.9%  (10th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $33,785 (18th highest)

In 2009, Japan spent 1.6% of GDP on college or college equivalent education, on par with the OECD’s average, and just 5.2% of GDP on education overall, well below the OECD’s 6.3% average. Despite its relatively light spending, the country still had a high school graduation rate of 96%, the second best among all nations in 2010, while the percentage of its population with a tertiary education was 14 percentage points higher than the OECD’s average. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, recent university graduates in Japan have struggled to find work, with 15% those graduating in the spring of 2012 neither employed nor enrolled in further education as of August.

4. United States

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 42%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 1.3% (2nd lowest)
> GDP per capita: $46,548 (4th highest)

Although the U.S. is one of just a few nations where more than 40% of people had a tertiary education in 2010, its education system is not without problems. Among the concerns, the graduation rate for upper secondary students in 2010 was 77%, well below the average rate of 84% for the OECD. Even though graduation rates were relatively low, the U.S. is one of the biggest spenders on education, with related expenditures equaling 7.3% of GDP in 2009. The U.S. was also the world’s largest spender on tertiary education in 2009, at 2.6% of GDP. The majority of funds for higher education, totaling 1.6% of GDP, came from private sources.

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5. New Zealand

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 41%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 3.5% (13th highest)
> GDP per capita: $29,711 (17th lowest)

The tiny country’s population has grown 13.2% between 2000 and 2010, as has the country’s education system. The number of people with a college or college equivalent education rose from 29% to 41% over the period. The country also has become a destination of choice for international students, who made up 14.2% of tertiary students in 2010. New Zealand is also a leader in educating scientists, with 16% of students choosing a science for their field of study at the tertiary level — the highest proportion of any country.

6. South Korea

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 40%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 5.2% (6th highest)
> GDP per capita: $28,797 (16th lowest)

Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of South Koreans with a college education or more rose from 24% to 40%. In addition to being well-educated, many residents also invested considerable amounts towards their schooling. In 2009, only Iceland spent more than South Korea’s 8% of GDP. That year, no country in the study contributed more private funds for education at all levels than South Korea, at 3.1% of GDP, or for tertiary education, at 1.9%. Despite the investment, education does not appear to have a measurable impact on job seekers. The unemployment rate in 2010 for those with a tertiary degree was 3.3% — low relative to the OECD average of 4.7%, but not much lower than the 3.7% rate for all workers in the country.

7. United Kingdom

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 38%
> Average annual growth rate: 4.0% (10th highest)
> GDP per capita: $35,756 (15th highest)

Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of U.K. residents with a tertiary education rose 12 percentage points. The country’s universities are also popular among students from other nations. International students make up 16% of enrollment. The country recently has had a shift in how education is financed. While in 2000 the percentage of funds from private sources was 14.8%, it rose to 31.1% by 2009. Students also must cover more of the cost of higher education than in the past, as the cap on tuition fees was raised from 3,290 pounds to 9,000 pounds for the 2012-2013 year.

8. Finland

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 38%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 1.8% (4th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $36,307 (14th highest)

Finland spent 6.4% of its gross domestic product on education in 2009, with 97.6% of these funds coming from public sources, more than any country in the report. Between 2000 and 2010, high school graduation rates rose by just two percentage points, while the number of people with a college education or more rose by just six percentage points. As a result, Finland fell from fourth to eighth place among the world’s most educated countries. Finnish workers with a tertiary education were far more likely to be employed than those without such an education — the unemployment rate was 4.4% for residents with a degree and 8.4% for those without.

9. Australia

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 38%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 3.2% (12th lowest)
> GDP per capita: $40,790 (6th highest)

Australia is a preferred destination for many international students, which is why it should come as no surprise that they accounted for 21.2% of the country’s tertiary students in 2010, higher than every country other than Luxembourg. Finding a job in the country is not especially hard for those with a college degree. The country had an unemployment rate of just 2.8% in 2010 for workers with a tertiary degree, compared to a rate of just 5.2% for all workers.

10. Ireland

Thinkstock> Pct. population with tertiary education: 37%
> Average annual growth rate (2000-2010): 7.3% (the highest)
> GDP per capita: $40,478 (7th highest)

From 2000 through 2010, the percentage of people with a college education or more in Ireland nearly doubled, rising at an annual average of 7.3% — faster than any country in the study. High school graduation rates also rose during that time, from 74% to 94%. Education has become especially critical for male job seekers in Ireland’s workforce, as 6.3% of men with a tertiary education were unemployed in 2010 versus 15.2% for all men nationwide.

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