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The UK boasts of having one in seven country leaders who have studied here

UK higher education boasts of having one in seven country leaders from around the world whohave studied here according, to an analysis by the British Council. This analysis shows that 27 countries have a UK-educated leader - a good measure of "soft power." These leaders range from Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani studied at Glasgow Calendonian University Iranian President Hassan Rouhani studied at Glasgow Calendonian University
25-09-2014 by BBC News

The UK's "soft power" can be measured by the fact that almost one in seven countries around the world has a prime minister or head of state who studied in a UK higher education institution.  According to an analysis by the British Council, 27 countries have a UK-educated leader.  These leaders range from Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

The British Council's analysis shows the extensive and diverse impact of the UK's university system. The British Council promotes UK culture and education and has also warned of falling numbers of overseas students in another report. 

'Long-term asset'

According to the British Council's analysis, among more than 190 countries, 27 have a leader, either political or a ceremonial head of state, who studied - in full or in part - at a high education institution in the UK. This includes crowned heads also. King Harald of Norway, for example, studied at the University of Oxford and King Tupou of Tonga, studied at the University of East Anglia. 

Some heads of state that have studied in the UK include:  the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak who studied at Nottingham University; Alexander Stubb prime minister of Finland, who went to the London School of Economics; and Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran, who studied at Glasgow Caledonian.  And, Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, who studied at the Western Eye Hospital in London.

Rebecca Hughes, the British Council's head of education, says this formative link with so many world leaders is a "long-term asset" for the UK.  However, Prof Hughes warned that attracting "the next generation of world leaders" was getting harder as "higher education internationalises and technology makes new forms of learning ever more accessible".

As well as the cultural and political influence, there was also the economic influence with the income from tuition fees from overseas students becoming an increasingly important financial contribution.  Overseas students are worth £7bn per year to the UK economy, according to universities. But Universities UK warns, in a report, of problems in recruiting overseas students, particularly from India.

Recruitment of students from India to UK universities has almost halved in the two academic years from 2011 to 2013 - and there are signs that this downward trend could be continuing.  On the other hand, there has been a growth in demand from students in China and Malaysia.

Not surprisingly then, the university sector has been lobbying for immigration targets not to include overseas students. Universities have been concerned by the perception that the immigration system wants to limit students from other countries coming to the UK.

The Institute of Directors has backed calls to remove overseas students from immigration targets. It has argued that it hampers employers from recruiting skilled workers and was not "pro-business".