Which Country Has the Smartest Students?

November 2, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

Is it possible to find out which country has the smartest students? That’s the question we challenged ourselves to answer - and here are the results.

First, we had to ask what we meant by smartest. There are a number of different ways to measure intelligence. The most well-known is the IQ test. 

But that’s just one way of looking at intelligence. It’s believed there could be at least eight different types of intelligence, such as musical intelligence, spatial intelligence and emotional intelligence.

All of these come together to shape how smart we are. There are also other factors involved, such as education, experience and the culture we live in.

Here are some of the ways we looked at the question of which country has the smartest students.

The Human Capital Index

Smart people are a vital part of a nation’s wealth, or capital. The World Bank has created a Human Capital Index that lets us see how countries compare with one another. This makes it a great place to start our search for the country with the smartest students.

The latest edition of the Human Capital Index shows these nations in the top five positions:

  1. Singapore
  2. Japan
  3. South Korea
  4. Canada
  5. Finland

As you can see, the Asia-Pacific region leads the way. The UK comes in at number 11 and the USA is at number 35.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a measure of intelligence. It combines  factors such as the quantity and quality of education, and health.

Smartest Students Based on IQ

The IQ test has long been recognised as an effective way to measure intelligence in individuals. The average IQ of a country reflects something of that nation’s approach to healthcare and education. 

One of the more well-known rankings by IQ is by academics Richard Lynn and David Becker. This has been updated for 2023 and here are the nations in the top positions:

  1. Singapore
  2. China
  3. South Korea
  4. Taiwan
  5. Japan

Again, Asia-Pacific nations lead the way. The UK is at number 14 and the USA at number 28. These numbers are based largely on various tests taken by a sample of people from these countries.

Smartest Students Based on Test Scores

It’s great to have loads of clever people in your country, but what’s going on with your students? How does their performance compare with students from other nations?

Some years ago the OECD began a programme of testing young people from across the world. Their data allows them to rank nations based on the performance of their students in similar tests.

Here are the most recent top 5 countries:

  1. China
  2. Singapore
  3. Estonia
  4. Japan
  5. South Korea 

Yet again, the top places are dominated by nations from the Asia-Pacific region. 

How People Use Their Intelligence

Let’s come at the question differently. Students might be intelligent and they might perform well in tests, but what do they do with their knowledge? 

Students become the innovators, researchers and leaders in our nations. One way of measuring their performance is by the number of Nobel prizes won by a country. These internationally recognised prizes are given to “those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”

The top 5 countries based on the number of Nobel prizes is:

  1. USA
  2. UK
  3. Germany
  4. France
  5. Sweden

This is a very different list from the others, comprising Western countries. This reflects the change in emphasis in recent years, with Asia-Pacific countries often leading the way in educational achievement. 

The Top Universities in the World

Another way to find the country with the smartest students is to look at where the top universities are found. There are several different systems for ranking universities, all of which take in several different criteria.

Of course, many of the students at these universities, and indeed some of the professors and tutors, aren’t from the country where the university is located. 

Here are the top 5 universities, according to Times Higher Education:

  1. University of Oxford (UK)
  2. Harvard University (USA)
  3. University of Cambridge (UK)
  4. Stanford University (USA)
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)

All these are in the UK and the USA. The top university outside these countries is ETH Zurich (Switzerland), at number 11 in the ranking. 

Another widely-respected list, from the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, is the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Their top 5 are:

  1. Harvard University (USA)
  2. Stanford University (USA)
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)
  4. University of Cambridge (UK)
  5. University of California, Berkeley (USA)

According to this ranking, the top university outside of the US and UK is Paris-Saclay University in France, at position 16 in the table. 

Whichever way you look at it, the top universities in the world are in Britain and the United States. But as we’ve seen from other tables, this does not mean that these countries are home to the smartest students.

Join the Smartest Students at Summer Schools

In trying to answer the question ‘Which country has the smartest students?’, we discovered lots of fascinating facts. Including that there’s an American with 30 degrees! We also learned that there’s no single answer to the question.

Every year, many of the world’s smartest students work on their learning by attending Summer Schools. These students are committed to developing their knowledge and collecting experiences. They want to learn all the time, whether they’re studying or having fun.

Summer Schools make that possible - giving you space to explore new subjects, make new friends and lay solid foundations for your future life. Our courses take place in some of the world’s top universities.

Give yourself the best chance of learning alongside some of the world’s smartest students. Sign up for a place on a Summers School course.

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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