The UK has been superceded by the US as the most popular place of education for the world's political leaders, a study has found, as experts warn the government's immigration policy could reduce the attraction of British universities to overseas students.
Both countries remained ahead of the pack, however, with France taking the number three spot for educating 40 world leaders, according to the annual survey from Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, warns that the UK risks losing its international influence under immigration policies that may restrict the numbers of overseas students attending British universities.
He said: “You build up real soft power when you educate the leading lights of other countries. In the past, we have been more successful than any other country in attracting the world’s future leaders.
"But these new figures suggest our pole position is under threat.”
Mr Hillman urged: “To ensure this does not become a long-term trend, we need to adopt a bold educational exports strategy, remove students from the government’s main migration target and roll out the red carpet when people come to study here.
"One practical way to make all that happen would be to end the Home Office having complete control over student migration and to share it across government departments instead, as they do in other countries.”
Leaders educated in the UK include Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who studied at the University of Oxford, Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who studied at Oxford and SOAS, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who studied at Imperial College’s Western Eye hospital in London.
Tom Huxley, an independent researcher who completed the study for HEPI, said the UK was facing “unprecedented competition for ambitious students from other countries.”
He said: “The government must take student numbers out of its migration target and allow our universities to attract more of the world’s brightest and best to study here. Otherwise, we risk losing such strong links to future world leaders.”
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “It is clear that the UK has one of the strongest university sectors in the world. This success in in large part due to the quality and dedication of staff working in our universities.
“However, we must not be complacent. Many of our major competitors are growing their investment in higher education and doing more to attract international talent.”
The Department for Education was approached for a comment.
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