Which countries invest the most in education?

27 Feb 2017 |

Investing in education doesn’t just look good, it makes good economic sense.

From boosting wages and GDP, to lifting people out of poverty, education is one of the most powerful tools available. But, how much are governments actually spending on education?

It’s a deceptively simple question, with no clear answer.

Many countries lack the systems and process to record and analyse the date on education funding. UNESCO data is incomplete, but for those countries with available information, Denmark takes top spot. The Nordic nation spent 8.61% of GDP on education in 2013, the latest year for which data is available.

Country Percentage of GDP spent on education, 2013 figures
Denmark 8.61
Zimbabwe 8.49
Malta 8.29
Iceland 7.81
Sweden 7.72
Norway 7.37
Senegal 7.19
Finland 7.16
Costa Rica 6.92
Aruba 6.8


The top 10

From government sources, Denmark spent more than 8.6% of GDP on education in 2013.

Zimbabwe and Malta complete the top 3. The top 10 is a mixture of developing and European nations, with Nordic countries especially prominent.

Countries such as Finland and Sweden are famed for their strong education systems, but in recent years funding has been cut – particularly for higher education.

Economic sense

The economic benefits of investing in education are clear. Research suggests that if every child learned to read, 170 million fewer people would live in poverty.

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Each extra year of education also boosts a person’s later income by 10%. At a national level, GDP is boosted by 18%.

Shakira’s on board

Colombian singer Shakira has also voiced her support for investing in education – particularly from early in a child’s life. Since the late 90s her foundation – The Pies Descalzos Foundation – has focused on improving children’s education, health and nutrition.

“Investing in our kids really is our only hope,” she said in 2013. “They’re our world’s greatest resource. Not oil, not gas. It’s the children of the world.”

The Global Education and Skills Forum takes place on 18th and 19th March 2017 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we make ‘real’ global citizens?”