According to a UNESCO report, “the number of students in higher education institutions more than doubled” in recent years, increasing from 100 million in 2000 to 207 million in 2014. During those same years, the global higher education gross enrollment ratio rose to 34 percent, up from 19 percent.
But not every country has contributed to this rise in higher education equally. Below you’ll find the countries with the most highly educated populations.*
The numbers are compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD ranks countries based on the percentage of citizens with tertiary education, which is defined as those having completed the highest level of education. “This includes both theoretical programs leading to advanced research or high skill professions such as medicine and more vocational programs leading to the labor market,” the organization says. OECD focused on the population in each country between the ages of 25 and 64.
*Note: Data was not made available for Brazil, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 37.25
Total population: 46.6 million
About 37 percent of its 46.6 million people in the European country have an advanced education. In Spain, students from the European Union can study for free by attending a Spanish university. But the undergraduate tuition for other students isn’t expensive, either. It costs about 680 to 1,280 euros a year.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 38.06
Total population: 5.7 people
Almost 6 million people reside in Denmark. Despite Danish being the native language, most residents speak English very well and sometimes another language, too. Many of the country’s universities are located in the capital of Copenhagen, but Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg are also home to excellent schools.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 38.34
Total population: 17 million
Nearly 40 percent of the 17 million people who call the Netherlands home have an advanced education. The northwestern European country is famous for canals, tulip fields, windmills and cycling routes. Amsterdam, the country’s capital and most famous city, has many universities. Other top colleges are in Utrecht and Rotterdam.
17. New Zealand
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 39.29
Total population: 5 million
About 5 million people call the two islands that make up the country of New Zealand home. It’s known for sweeping mountains, massive glaciers, hot springs and golden-sand beaches. New Zealand’s capital is Wellington, and you’ll find universities there. But Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch are also known for their schools. Some of the top master’s programs in the country are business and management studies, social sciences and engineering.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 40.64
Total population: 11.4 million
Belgium is known for all the best things: chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. It also has regions with individual languages, including Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the south. Then there is a German-speaking community in the east. Top colleges and universities can be found in Brussels, Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 41.13
Total population: 1.3 million
The Eastern European nation’s capital, Tallinn, has several universities and colleges. But students can find one of the top-ranked institutions in Tartu, Estonia.
“Ranked in the top 1.2% of the best universities in the world, the University of Tartu is a prestigious public research university,” according to Study Portals. “UT has 13,000 students, including 1,800 international students from 105 countries.”
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 41.65
Total population: 2.8 million
The southernmost of Europe’s Baltic states borders Poland, Latvia and Belarus. Some of the country’s best universities are in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda. Tuition for public university programs is state-subsidized for Lithuanian citizens.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 43.27
Total population: 10 million
The 10 million folks who call the country home emphasize computer science, business, engineering and biotechnology. If you have a passport from a country in the EU, you can study for free in Sweden. But even students outside of that don’t pay that much in tuition: 8,000-19,000 euros a year.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 43.58
Total population: 5.3 million
The Scandanavian country is famous for its natural beauty, including coastal fjords and glaciers, and its capital, Oslo, is home to several universities. Sweden is “consistently ranked by the UN as having the highest standard of living in the world based largely on average levels of education and income,” according to Study Portals. “Higher studies in Norway are some of the best in Europe.”
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 43.74
Total population: 8.6 million
Switzerland is famous for its watches, chocolate, ski resorts and hiking trails, but the Central European country is also home to several excellent universities and colleges. With banking and finance being two of the primary industries in Switzerland, it makes sense that many citizens would have advanced education. Zürich, Geneva, Bern and Lausanne all have noteworthy universities.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 43.75
Total population: 360,000
The island nation is known worldwide for its dramatic landscape of volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs and lava fields. But the country’s citizens are more than nature lovers. They’re also highly educated. Most of the population, which is only about 360,000 people, live in the capital Reykjavik.
One of the country’s largest universities is also there: the University of Iceland. But the main selling point is that the school doesn’t charge any fees for tuition. Students from North America do have to pay an annual registration fee of $600, though. It is worth noting that none of the public colleges in Iceland charge tuition to American students.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 43.89
Total population: 602,005
Belgium, France and Germany surround the mostly rural country of Luxembourg. Most of the country’s colleges and universities are in the capital, Luxembourg City. Most of the schools focus on business, but there are also programs for social work and law. The country is known for its generous tax breaks, which is why business is the most popular program of study in Luxembourg.
The Jack Welch College of Business at Sacred Heart University Luxembourg is one of the more well-known programs. The 16-month MBA includes a paid internship that runs from six to nine months. There are also colleges for social work and law.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 45.19
Total population: 5.5 million
The European nation borders Sweden, Norway and Russia, and ranks above all three in terms of most educated citizens. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is home to some great universities, but students can find great options in Turku and Jyväskylä, among other cities. When folks aren’t working on their education, they can see the Northern Lights in Finland’s Arctic Lapland province.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 45.73
Total population: 25 million
Almost 50 percent of Australians have a tertiary education. Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide are all major cities and coastal. Melbourne is considered the cultural heart of Australia, so students won’t get bored in this city, which is known for its museums, restaurants, cafés, live music and nightlife.
The country’s total gross domestic product is about $1.69 trillion. About 70 percent of that comes from jobs in the service industry. While lots of those jobs don’t require an advanced degree, top-tier positions will likely be filled with college graduates. Additional industries with a higher need for college degrees include health care, tourism, media and entertainment.
6. United Kingdom
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 45.78
Total population: 66.4 million
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make up the United Kingdom, which is the birthplace of Shakespeare. Of course it would be known for a well-read population. London is famous for its colleges and global influence. But the country is also home to centuries-old universities Oxford and Cambridge.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 46.94
Total population: 4.8 million
The Emerald Isle has been long famous for its writers. Some of the best colleges in the country include Trinity College Dublin, Royal College of Surgeons, University College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, Galway. Limerick, Cork and Galway are known for their universities as much as the nation’s capital of Dublin.
4. United States
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 47.43
Total population: 327.2 million
While more Americans are going to college than ever before, as a country, the U.S. tops out at No. 4 on our list. The United States, however, dominates the rankings of the best colleges in the world. Eight of the 10 top universities across the world are in America, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings.
3. South Korea
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 49.01
Total population: 51.5 million
South Korea is on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula and shares one of the most heavily militarized borders with North Korea. The country’s capital, Seoul, is home to about 10 million people and many of the country’s top universities. But Daegu, Chuncheon, Cheonan and Gyeongsan are known for their colleges and study abroad programs.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 51.93
Total population: 126.8 million
Just a bit over half of the adult population has the highest level of education in Japan. The island nation sits in the Pacific Ocean, and is known for its dense cities. One such city, Tokyo, is home to hundreds of colleges and universities. Japan’s highest-ranked institution, the University of Tokyo, is here.
Japan also ranks among this year’s top travel destinations.
Percent of population age 25-64 with tertiary education: 57.89
Total population: 37.6 million
Nearly 60 percent of Canada’s population has completed the highest level of education. The major cities in Canada include Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Québec City and the capital, Ottawa. Even though Canada has many cities, it’s also home to huge swaths of wilderness that include the Canadian Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls.
Degrees in engineering, business administration, management sciences and finance are among the top 10 for students.