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: who participates in education, what is spent on it, tuitions fees for international students, how education systems operate and the results achieved. Not to worry though, because the ten countries that make the grade all boast wonderful state education systems that tax-paying expats can take advantage of. With that said, let’s jump right in to the best countries in the world for education in 2022.
What makes these places the best countries for education in the world?
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 10 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. We also marked countries that have tuition-free universities. Most countries offer private education, including international schools. However, since these are usually private businesses, there’s no easy way to rank them, hence we haven’t included them on this list.
These are William Russell’s best countries for education in the world. Honourable mentions go to Luxembourg (which has the highest education spend per capita of any country – by a huge margin) and Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, which all rank highly for various subjects.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
If you can stop yourself being distracted by the picturesque bays and mountains, New Zealand will also delight in teaching quality – it comes in the best countries in the world for reading comprehension and science, and in the top 20 for mathematics. In fact, academic performance is so high in New Zealand that it also boasts the 8th best completion rate for secondary education, making it one of the best countries for education.
How does New Zealand achieve this? Ostensibly through its high education spending. The Kiwis are almost on a par with big European countries like Germany when it comes to education spending. That allows them to keep class sizes among the smallest in the world, while also keeping teachers’ salaries above average.
Going to university in New Zealand
Rates of university graduations are fairly low in NZ, and only one Kiwi university – the University of Auckland – can boast a prestigious top-100 spot on the QS World University Rankings 2022.
However, all eight of New Zealand’s universities are within the top 500, courses are taught in English and graduate prospects are some of the highest in the world. Tuition fees for international students tend to be in the ballpark of NZD$20,000-35,000 (£10,000–18,000) per year.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
Ireland comes a respectable 14th in the world for mathematics and 18th for science, but it’s reading comprehension where the Emerald Isle shines – ranking second in the whole world.
The general level of attainment is fast-improving in Ireland, too. 56% of people have a secondary qualification, while 30% have completed tertiary education.
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 – one of the British Isles’ ancient universities, alongside Oxford and Cambridge – 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. EU and British citizens will typically pay a bit less, typically in the region of €3,000–30,000 for the student contribution fees. 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 PER CAPITA, PPP
From Grease to Animal House to The Breakfast Club to Mean Girls to Superbad to High School Musical… the American education system is so iconic, it’s been the backdrop of some of the greatest Hollywood movies of all time.
Being one of the world’s biggest spenders in education, it’s no wonder America produces so many modern-day CEOs, academics and artists. America places strong emphasis on science, business and technology and, as such, ranks 7th for reading comprehension and 10th for science. Unfortunately, maths lets the USA down, with the country falling below the OECD average.
Nonetheless, educational attainment is high in the USA. Around 50% of the population completes tertiary education, with a further 42% having completed upper secondary education.
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 $25,000-35,000 (£18,000-£25,000) per year to study in the USA. Also, read our guide if you want to find out why health insurance is usually very expensive in the USA.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
With the highest proportion of tertiary graduates (by a considerable distance), Germany can boast of producing some of the world’s best-educated people.
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.
Despite this, secondary performance in Germany isn’t the greatest in the world. Germany misses out on the top 10 spots for all metrics of secondary performance, coming 12th for science, 13th for reading and 15th for mathematics. Germany also sees a high drop-out rate, with only around three-quarters of people completing secondary education.
But with the opportunity to study in one of the world’s most historically intellectual countries, Germany is a dream destination for expats wanting a quality education.
Going to university in Germany
Germany is home to several of the world’s best universities, with Technical University of Munich, Ruprech-Karls-Universitat Heidelberg and Ludwig-Maximillians-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 €3,000 per year as an administrative fee.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
Ranking sixth for science and reading, and thirteenth worldwide for mathematics, Finland can boast of having one of the best education systems in the world. The UN even ranked Finland as high as fourth in 2019.
The Finns don’t stint on education spending, coming in the top 10 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.
It’s easy to see, then, why Finland has one of the highest rates of tertiary education applications in the world – although the low proportion of people living in Finland with a tertiary qualification suggests that many of them move away after qualifying.
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 at 112th – 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 €3,000 per year. That is, unless you are applying for a course taught in Swedish or Finnish – these are always free, even for international students.
Unlike many other countries, education is mandatory until 18 years old in Poland, and there are plenty of alternatives to the traditional secondary education route, including the liceum and the technikum. It should go without saying, therefore, that Poland has one of the highest rates of students in secondary education across the world.
Going to university in Poland
Despite its strong performance in general education, Poland is far from exceptional when it comes to tertiary education. This is probably due to the fact most of its 500+ universities are private and therefore not connected to state funding. That could explain why less than a third of Poles have completed tertiary education, and why so many move to other countries for university.
Nonetheless, Poland has several excellent universities. The University of Warsaw and Jagiellonian University, Krakow come in at 308th and 309th in the world respectively. Fees for international students tend to be around 15,000 zloty per year ($4,200/£3,000), but may be higher depending on the university you attend.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
Coming third in the world for reading, fourth for science and seventh for mathematics, Canada is undoubtedly one of the best countries in the world for education. It’s also one of our top 5 destinations for expats overall.
What makes Canadian education so good? It could be that Canadian teachers are some of the best-paid in the world. Or that Canada is home to three of the top 50 universities worldwide (Toronto, McGill and the University of British Columbia).
This could explain why Canada has the second-highest level of citizens with a tertiary qualification, just behind South Korea. It may also have something to do with Canada’s points-based immigration system, which prioritises university graduates.
Having said that, Canada actually posts low scores in tertiary enrolment, meaning not many young Canadians go on to university – although this could be because many Canadians choose to continue their studies in the USA.
Going to university in Canada
Canada is home to three top 50 universities, plus a further 14 in the top 500, making it very attractive to students. Canadian universities are research-focused and many offer students the opportunity to take part in cutting-edge academic projects. Most courses are taught in English, with some also taught in French.
However, it’s not cheap: international students will be expected to pay up to USD$20,000 (£14,000) per year. The cost of living can also be very high in Canada. Therefore, you may want to look into scholarships or other means to help fund your education in Canada.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
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 the country ranks second worldwide for mathematics, third for science and fourth for reading comprehension.
South Korea can also boast of having the world’s most educated population, with 91% of people having completed secondary education (the highest in the world), plus 70% of young people having some form of tertiary qualification – to put that in perspective, the OECD global average is just 45%.
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 at 36th and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology at 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 between $2,000 to $5,900 for annual tuition.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
This tiny Baltic state punches far above its weight when it comes to education: it topped the OECD leaderboards in 2021 for reading performance, also finishing second worldwide for science and third for mathematics, making it one of the best countries across the board for education.
However, education spending is low compared to more developed EU countries – so whether Estonia will hang on to this incredibly high spot on the leaderboards is yet to be seen!
Going to university in Estonia
Only one Estonian university makes it into the world top 500 (the University of Tartu in central Estonia), and many Estonian students choose to move to other countries for tertiary education.
But there are lots of opportunities for postgraduate study in Estonia. Several universities offer a range of postgrad programs taught in English as well as Russian, plus exchange arrangements with other EU countries. When it comes to tuition fees, international students can expect to pay anything between €1,500–€5,000 per term. Students can also find free study programmes (especially if they are from the EU), but these are more common at Master’s level. All PhD programmes are also free.
- GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
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 produce the highest grades in the world for both science and mathematics at secondary level.
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. Education spending up to 2016 was also comparatively much lower than in other G7 countries.
Going to university in Japan
Japan has 5 universities within 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 $5,000 to $10,000.
Are you educated when it comes to international health insurance?
The COVID-19 crisis has 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 is absolutely imperative 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, and that includes COVID-19. Speak to William Russell today to find out more.