Looking to study as an international student or moving abroad with children? We are not surprised: the value of a good education is widely accepted around the world. Taking your studies abroad will open you up to a whole range of new experiences, allowing you to see the world while furthering your career prospects. But what are the best countries for education?
To help you make a choice, we’ve ranked the best countries in the world for education, considering all sort of factors for each country including who participates in education, what is spent on it, tuitions fees for international students and the country’s social and economic environment. We also considered the world education rankings by country. The 12 countries that make the grade all boast wonderful state education systems that tax-paying expats can take advantage of. With that said, let’s take a look at which country has the best education system in 2023.
Education levels vary between countries around the world. In general, people in underdeveloped and undeveloped countries do not have access to quality education or education at all.
Those in developed nations have higher literacy rates and at least a basic high school education. It’s widely known that people who have access to quality education are more likely to be gainfully employed and be productive citizens.
We’ve ranked the top 12 best countries in the world for education, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD) and other sources. These rankings are for state (public) education only. They provide data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems across OECD countries and a number of partner economies.
According to our research these are currently the best countries for education in the world. Honourable mentions go to Belgium, Singapore and Iceland, who only narrowly missed the cut.
- GDP US$2.708 trillion
- POPULATION 67.22 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$40,284
The United Kingdom is considered the best country for education in 2023. The country offers a universal public education system, both in primary and secondary schools with the belief that every child regardless of background deserves a good education.
Children in the UK have to legally attend school from 5 years old until 16 years old, after which they can go to go into full-time employment, go to college, become an apprentice, or apply to university. Primary and secondary schools follow a ‘national curriculum’ set by the government, ensuring all children receive a good education across a broad range of subjects.
The UK economy is highly developed, providing job opportunities for all levels of school leaver. In 2021, 65.2% of working-age graduates were in high-skilled employment, compared to 77.4% of postgraduates and 24.3% of non-graduates. The government also imposes a minimum wage, forcing employers to pay all workers a salary considered enough to live on.
Going to university in United Kingdom
The UK is home to some of the top universities in the world, including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London, which rank second, third and seventh in the world respectively. There are a number of reasons a UK education is so highly regarded, one of which being their reputation for world-class conducted by both professors and students. As such, UK courses are some of the most widely acknowledge in the world, allowing students to gain entry into pretty much any country of their choosing after graduation. The UK is also known for its highly multi-cultural society, with all racial, ethnic and religious group represented and accepted in some way.
When it comes to price, a university education in the UK could cost international students anywhere between £10,000 and £26,000 a year for a lecture-based undergraduate degree.
- GDP US$20.94 trillion
- POPULATION 331.89 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$63,543
Being one of the world’s biggest spenders in education, it’s no wonder America produces so many modern-day CEOs, academics and artists. Educational attainment is extremely high in the USA, with around 50% of the population completing tertiary education, and a further 42% having completed upper secondary education.
The US school system is typically split into three levels: elementary (taking children from 5 to 11), middle (covering age 11 to 13) and high school (from age 13 to 17).
In terms of economy, the USA is on the up after a dip during COVID. US GDP grew 5.7% in 2021, after decreasing 3.4% in 2020. This resulted in an increase of 6.7 million jobs in 2021, with the average annual unemployment rate sitting at around 5.4%.
Going to university in the United States
For those wanting to go to university (“college”) in the States, the world’s highest standard of education awaits. The USA has five of the top 10 universities in the world (MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech and Chicago), plus another 23 in the top 100, making it one of the best countries for education.
That’s assuming, however, that you’ve got the money to cover the extraordinarily high costs of college in the States. Be warned: expat students could expect to pay anywhere between US$25,000-35,000 (£18,000-£25,000) per year to study in the USA.
- GDP US$1,631 trillion
- POPULATION 51.78 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$31,489
South Korea is – to put it bluntly – obsessed with education. There’s even a term for it in Korea: “education fever.” Students in South Korea are known for being extremely competitive, which is why it should come as no surprise that the country ranks seventh worldwide for mathematics, second for science and ninth for reading comprehension.
South Korea can also boast of having the world’s most educated population, with 84% of people having completed high school education and 71.5% enrolling in university.
Economically, South Korea have experienced a decade of rapid economic growth and is now considered a highly industrialised economy led by the technology sectors – electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, as well as chemicals, shipbuilding and steel.
Going to university in South Korea
There is no shortage of great universities in Korea, with six in the global top 100, including Seoul National University in 36th place and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in 41st.
Expat students who want to specialise in science and technology will find South Korea an attractive prospect. You’ll need a basic knowledge of Korean to go to university here, although many courses are taught in English. And you’ll have to have an excellent academic record – there’s lots of competition for university places. International students can expect to pay around US$3,000 per semester.
- GDP US$355.2 billion
- POPULATION 5.83 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$60,908
The education system in Denmark is less rigid than in many other high-performing countries, with a system that values curiosity and logic over memorisation. As such, primary education tends to avoid class rankings and formal tests to focus instead on problem-solving and social integration. And the approach seems to work, with 82% of Danes going on to complete upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 79%.
Academia and the pursuit of knowledge is considered a way of life in Demark, and doesn’t stop with childhood. One in three Danish adults aged 25-64 is taking some kind of continued education course, either on top of a degree or simply as a hobby.
Going to university in Denmark
Danish universities are considered among the best in Europe with the University of Copenhagen and Technical University of Denmark both placing in the top 100 university rankings for 2022. Universitas 21 ranked Demark as fifth in the world for higher education in 2019.
Several thousand foreign students choose Denmark for their higher education every year, and as such, most programmes provided by Danish universities are taught in English. All students wishing to do their higher education in Denmark will be expected to have a good level of English. Annual tuition fees for full degree students in Denmark fall between US$8,000-21,000 for the full qualification.
- GDP US$912.2 billion
- POPULATION 17.44 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$52,304
The Netherlands ranks highly across most fields of education and was even named third-most educated country in the world by the World Economic Forum in 2016. A highly international country, children in Dutch schools are taught English from a young age, and there is a wealth of bi-lingual and international schools for expats to choose from.
The Dutch education system is known for its modern curriculum and facilities, encouraging students to meet international standards of education. 92% of Dutch children graduate from high school.
The Netherlands economy is the seventeenth largest in the world and the fifth largest in the European monetary Union, with its leading sectors being aerospace, defence, cyber security, energy, information and communication technology and agriculture.
Going to university in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is internationally renowned for its high standard of taught and research-based higher education. The Netherlands is particularly popular amongst expats, having one of the largest offers of English-taught courses in continental Europe.
Both University of Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology rank in the top 100 universities for 2022, placing 55 and 57 respectively, while a further seven Dutch universities place in the top 200.
The cost of a bachelor’s degree typically comes between €8,000 and €14,000 per year of study.
- GDP US$3.806 trillion
- POPULATION 83.1 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$45,723
Germany can boast of producing some of the world’s best-educated people, with an impressive 86% of adults aged 25-64 having completed upper secondary education. That’s considerably higher than the OECD average of 79%.
Germany spends big on education, and this is reflected in its famously spic-and-span classrooms, its beautifully designed school buildings and its top-of-the-range facilities. Class sizes in Germany are typically fairly small and teachers are treated like royalty, receiving the second-highest teaching salaries in the world.
After graduating from one of the best countries for education in the world, German students will enter into the fourth largest economy in the world after the USA, China and Japan, with impressive employment rates of 91.3% for graduate in 2021.
Going to university in Germany
Germany is home to several of the world’s best universities, with Technical University of Munich, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat Heidelberg and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen placing in the top 100 universities worldwide. No wonder it is one of the best countries for education! Many (but not all) courses at German universities are taught in English, while others will require you to pass a German language test.
Germany is hot on industry and many universities are connected to huge companies. This gives students the opportunity to take part in internships and summer placements. But the best bit? University in Germany is free (yes, free!) for all students, including international students.
For both undergraduate and graduate degree programmes, you can study abroad for free in public German universities. This is generally true for international students worldwide, inside or outside the EU/EEA zone. The only exception is the state of Baden-Württemberg (where Stuttgart is located), but even here international students will only have to pay €1,500 semester.
- GDP US$418.6 billion
- POPULATION 4.994 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$83,812
Ireland comes a respectable 21st in the world for mathematics and 22nd for science, but it’s reading comprehension where the Emerald Isle shines – ranking eighth in the world.
The general level of attainment is fast improving in Ireland, too. 85% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 79%.
And, while class sizes in Ireland are usually on the larger side (Ireland has a bit of a schools shortage due to its growing population), Irish teachers benefit from some of the highest salaries in the world.
Going to university in Ireland
Trinity College Dublin just misses out on a top-100 spot this year, while four other Irish universities also feature in the top 500. Because of a recent influx of digital, media and technology companies to Ireland, this is becoming one of the top destinations for students interested in pursuing careers in these sectors.
Tuition fees in Ireland can range from anywhere between €9,000–€55,000 for international students. Undergraduate courses are free for citizens of EEA countries and Switzerland. There are a number of concessions and scholarships up for grabs, including a scheme to help residents of Northern Ireland. Under the Free Fees Initiative, Ireland’s Higher Education Authority pays tuition fees for eligible students straight to the university.
- GDP US$537.6 billion
- POPULATION 10.38 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$51,925
One of the most notable things about the Swedish education system is that it’s decentralized – giving Swedish citizens freedom of choice to enrol children in a diverse selection of schools. Because of this, Sweden has a phenomenal educational infrastructure, with all schools competing to offer the highest-quality education.
Sweden puts an emphasis on individual learning and makes play an integral part of early years education. Perhaps this is what places them comparatively high on the scale in providing equal opportunities to children across all social and economic backgrounds. 84% of Swedish adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, comfortably surpassing the OECD average of 79%.
Going to university in Sweden
Higher education in Sweden is among the best in the world. This was heralded in the 2019 Universitas 21 Survey, which placed Nordic universities fourth in the world overall, noting in particular a high government expenditure per pupil. The Swedes also ranked well for technology and connectivity, boasting cutting-edge facilities and progressive teaching encouraging students to question the norm.
Lund University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm both placed in the top 100 universities in 2022. International students can expect to pay between €7,500 and €25,500 for a Swedish degree.
- GDP US$271.2 million
- POPULATION 5.536 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$49,041
Ranking sixth worldwide for maths, 16th for science and seventh for reading, Finland can boast of having one of the best education systems in the world.
The Finns don’t stint on education spending, being in the top 10 for education budgets worldwide. So, while teachers’ salaries and class sizes may be average today, it’s likely Finland will see huge improvements soon if it keeps up its current level of spending.
Another win for Finland’s schooling system is its ability to provide high-quality education regardless of social background, with students performing well across the board.
Going to university in Finland
In terms of tertiary education, Finland has previously been ranked best in the world by the World Education Forum. It just misses out on being included in the top 100 universities list, with QS listing the University of Helsinki at 104th and Aalto University at 112th in 2022 – incredible achievements nonetheless for such a small country, making it to our best countries for education list.
All universities in Finland are free for EU citizens. Non-EU citizens should expect to pay around €4,000-€18,000 per year. That is, unless you are applying for a course taught in Swedish or Finnish – these are always free, even for international students.
- GDP US$5.065 trillion
- POPULATION 125,836 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$40,113
As well as having one of the best healthcare systems worldwide, Japan is a country that takes education extremely seriously. With an economy based heavily on science, engineering and technology, it’s no wonder Japanese students rank fifth and sixth in the world respectively for science and maths.
Overall, Japan has the fifth highest level of general adult education in the world, and by far the highest of any of the G7 countries. Around 4 in every 5 Japanese students have some form of tertiary education, with over 50% going on to university.
Japan is also well-known for its high-intensity education culture. Cram schools, called Juku, are common in major cities. These are private evening schools that many students attend to practice for exams.
This is not to say Japan is perfect. Ironically, considering the large intake, Japan has some of the lowest scores for people who finish tertiary education.
Going to university in Japan
Japan has 5 universities in the world’s top 100, with the prestigious University of Tokyo ranked 23rd overall. A further 11 make into the top 500, putting Japan in the highest bracket of countries for further education, making it one of the best countries for education.
Would-be students will need to pass a Japanese language test to get into many universities in Japan, although there are some that teach courses in English, including private universities. Fees for undergraduate studies range from US$5,000-10,000.
- GDP US$1.331 trillion
- POPULATION 25.726 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$51,812
The Australian education system is pretty standard across the whole country, with children starting primary education around five years old and staying in compulsory education until age 16. After this, students can choose to stay on to receive a level 3 or level 4 certificate, enabling them to apply for university.
Australia also boasts a large and growing number of independent schools for children of all ages. As many as 30% of Australia’s primary school children now attend independent schools. However, this is not to say that public schools do not provide good-quality education. In Australia, 84% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education – way above the OECD average of 79%.
In terms of economy, Australia is well on its way to a solid recovery from the pandemic, with real GDP projected to grow by 4.2% by the end of 2022 and a further 2.5% in 2023. The employment rate in Australia is currently sitting around 64.2%.
Going to university in Australia
As of 2019, Australia is the fifth most popular destination for international students, which is hardly surprising considering it’s home to seven of the top 100 universities in the world including The Australian National University at number 27, The University of Melbourne at number 37 and The University of Sydney at 38.
And it’s not just a good education you’ll get moving to Australia. You’ll also enjoy an exceptional lifestyle according to students, who have rated both Sydney and Melbourne in the top 10 student cities for 2023.
As an international student, an Australian degree will set you back somewhere in the region of US$14,000-35,000 a year.
- GDP US$515.3 billion
- POPULATION 11.555 million
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP US$44,594
The French education system is divided into three stages: primary, secondary and higher. School attendance is compulsory for children aged 6-16, with the language of instruction being French – expats should note that bilingual education programmes are mostly reserved for independent schools.
Public schools in France are free, secular and co-ed, and follow a national curriculum as laid out by the Ministry of Education. Only 20% of French children are educated privately.
The French economy is fifth largest in the world and represent one fifth of the Euro region’s GDP. The economy continues to expand, and is expected to reach 2.9% growth by the end of 2022, and 1.9% in 2023. The average employment rate between 2003 and 2022 in France is a respectable 65.05%.
Going to university in France
Tertiary education is where France really thrives, with four of its universities ranking in the top 100: Université PSL, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, Sorbonne University and Université Paris-Saclay.
France offers a huge range of higher education options, including 72 universities, 271 Doctoral schools and 227 engineering schools, with more than 1,200 programmes taught in English. Around 12% of university students in France are international.
Are you educated when it comes to international health insurance?
The COVID-19 crisis affected schools and universities internationally, with many closing their campuses, moving online and creating new rules around student participation.
If you are planning to move abroad in time for the start of the new academic year, it’s important that you not only research your destination’s rules around health (e.g. are students required to be vaccinated?) but also take out comprehensive international health insurance. This will protect you and your family in the event of a medical emergency. Speak to us at William Russell to find out more.