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What Countries Are the Most Educated?

Margaret has a bachelor's degree in International and European Studies. She has thoroughly studied global economy, history and development.


The 5 Most Educated Countries

Has the question of which country has the most educated population ever crossed your mind? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been compiling the percentage of each country's population with tertiary education, by age group. Tertiary education refers to the highest level of education, which follows the completion of a school and includes universities, colleges and vocational courses. This article targets 25–34 year-olds. Let's take a look according to OECD'S latest data.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries. It was founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade and since then has been collecting data on numerous fields such as education, environment, healthcare and many more.

Countries with the highest percentage of population with tertiary education.

CountryPercentage of population with tertiary education in 2017Percentage of Population with tertiary education in 2018
















5. Ireland

Ireland, the world's twentieth largest island, ranks pretty high in the list of the countries with the highest level of education among their young population, taking the 5th place with a 56,2%. Engineering and financial management are the jobs with the highest demand in Ireland.

4. Japan

Japan comes 4th among the world's countries with the highest levels of education, with teaching, manga writing and engineering being among the most common and sought after jobs in the country. Also, you'd be surprised to learn that Japan is currently the largest pornographic producer in the world; thus, adult filmmaking is another field that occupies a large percentage of the population. 60,7% of the population aged 25–34 had completed tertiary education in 2018.

3. Canada

In regards to a country's levels of education, Canada also ranks pretty high, taking the 3rd place with a 61,8 % of its population having received tertiary education. Careers that are becoming highly in demand in Canada are in the health care industry, which are also the highest paying field in the country.

2. Russia

Russia has the second-highest percentage of population with tertiary education, which is a steady 62,7% during both 2017 and 2018. According to data collected by Russias's Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the occupations with the highest demand in the country are lawyers, chefs and cashiers.

1. Korea

According to OECD's data, Korea has the world's most educated population, since 69,6% of its citizens have received the highest education. This country is one of the most technologically advanced, whereas medicine, public sector and sales are the fields that attract the majority of employees.

Ewha Woman's University in Seoul, South Korea

Ewha Woman's University in Seoul, South Korea

Countries with the lowest percentage of population with tertiary education.

CountryPercentage of population with tertiary education in 2017Percentage of population with tertiary education in 2018

South Africa















Counties With the Lowest Percentage of Population With Tertiary Education

Having seen the countries with the most educated population, it would be beneficial to also take a look at the ones with the highest rates of education exclusion. South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico all share a common trait: poverty, which results in a lack of infrastructure, technology and human resources. South Africa comes first in the list, a fact that takes no one by surprise. In fact, ever since the United Nations first invented the term "least developed countries", African countries have dominated the list. Currently, there are more than 17 million children in the continent who don't attend school, while schools lack even the basic amenities, from potable water to textbooks. Italy, on the other hand, has a large economy (the world's 8th largest), but ranks 5th on the list of the less educated countries. Italy has also the second-lowest percentage of university graduates in the European Union. A crucial factor for this is that Italy spends less on education than other countries in the EU.

The term "Least Developed Countries" was an invention made in the late 1960's by the United Nations, while the first group of them was listed in 1971. In order for a country to be listed as one, it needs to meet three criteria: high levels of poverty, economic vulnerability and a low human development index.

Sign in Uganda, Africa

Sign in Uganda, Africa

Why Should Someone Pursue a Higher Education?

No one could argue with the fact that in our century, society values higher education more than ever before. Pursuing one is as important as finishing high school and many would support—myself included—that it's even more crucial for anyone who desires to significantly improve their chances of leading a happy life. That's because education offers a great number of benefits and not just the chance to prepare for a career and land a well-paid job. In fact, in the long term, it affects all aspects of a person's life. Apart from post-secondary education serving as the means to earn more money, it has a positive effect on a person's health, since people with financial security tend to have less stress in their everyday lives, a factor responsible for many diseases. Also, they develop their communication and critical thinking skills, and are offered the chance to meet different people from different backgrounds, which can help them broaden their horizons and become more open-minded. What is more, individuals with tertiary education develop a greater sense of discipline and responsibility, which results in them making wiser decisions and in general, leading better lives.

The main hope for a nation lies in the proper education of it's youth.

— Erasmus



This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Margaret Pan


Margaret Pan (author) from Athens on February 21, 2020:

Kyler, I've met incredibly intelligent people who hadn't a degree and some completely incompetent who had one (and believed they were better than others). Just obtaining a college degree isn't enough. You also need intelligence, patience, time and effort.

Margaret Pan (author) from Athens on February 21, 2020:

You certainly gave me food for thought too!

Margaret Pan (author) from Athens on February 21, 2020:

Unfortunately the unemployment rate has risen for young people in general, with or without a college degree. However, in United States the unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor's degree or higher was 2,1% in 2019 and 3,7% for high school graduates. It's a complicated topic, to say the least.

Kyler J Falk from California on February 21, 2020:

With 53% of college graduates being unemployed or working in a position that does not require a bachelor's degree I still can't help but feel institutional education as an institution is worthless outside of STEM. With the availability of the internet, even acknowledging that not everyone has this privilege, education as an institution is hardly the best way to pursue higher knowledge. That is to say, unless you are seeking certification in order to hold a position that requires it like nursing.

I suppose I'm not looking at this from the same perspective as you, and if I looked through your eyes I would agree. Could also be a difference in privilege as it concerns country of birth. Definitely has me thinking deeper on the topic now.

Margaret Pan (author) from Athens on February 21, 2020:

Kyler, thank you for your comment!

I agree with the fact that higher education is not a ticket to instant success. It's more about opening up opportunities in life. Whether someone lands a good, high-paying job depends on many factors, such as their academic field, the type of their degree, the country they live in, other qualifications they might have, luck and of course personal traits like the ones you mentioned (charisma or the ability to adapt) play a huge role too. For example, in Greece, a country that highly depends on tourism, speaking multiple languages and having language certificates is for many employees more important than having a college degree. However, at the end of the day this is a matter of statistics and not opinions. Statistics still show that individuals with a higher education usually have more jobs open to them than those who don’t further their education beyond high school while they also usually earn more money. Exceptions can be found everywhere. I know people with college degrees who have landed great jobs and others who have not, which made them pursue careers in completely different fields. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in the article, we shouldn't forget that education's benefits go beyond money, a fact that is also based on data. It can improve a person's overall quality of life ( enrich a person's personality, shape their character, teach them discipline and responsibility, train them to communicate better, analyse and reflect, make wiser decisions and so many other things). I don't suggest that people who don't have a higher education can't achieve success and are bound to fail. I do however believe that it can be extremely beneficial for each and every one of us and that people should aim for a college degree.

Kyler J Falk from California on February 21, 2020:

Not sure I could agree, outside of a STEM field, that higher education is necessary anymore. There are many entry-level positions that require a bachelor's degree and pay little more than $20/hr, with the fine print also recommending four or more years of experience. If you pursue a higher education to start out at such a low wage, you're most likely going to regret it deeply.

My girlfriend makes close to $20/hr, has her degree in culinary arts, and can't find a job that pays more even though she has designed menus and ran restaurants single-handed, winning "Best in stat" awards for numerous categories. She regrets ever going to school as she is now leaving the field for a job in finances, which is paying entry-level, inexperienced workers, close to $30/hr, and refuses to hire more experienced and educated individuals due to them being more set in their ways.

Conversely my best friend is pulling in six figures, in sales, and barely made it out of high school. Swears by charisma and the ability to adapt, as even his bosses and owner of the company refused to go to college.

I think it is most accurate to say college is only important for STEM, or otherwise self-inflated, pretentious fields that don't really even value the education (almost everything outside of STEM), more so the proof that you are able to complete it. At least that is what I have observed, and I'd be willing to admit I'm totally wrong if that's the case.

Even if I'm wrong I see more job listings accepting unqualified STEM degree holders than I see lax requirements for those who do not. I'll always hold higher-education as an institution in low regards.

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