Thanks to the Fundación de la Innovación Bankinter, I had a chance this last week to speak in Madrid on the issues facing higher education in Spain. To illustrate the relationship between higher education and national competitiveness I correlated the number of top universities (normalized by population) in each country with the country’s per capita income and its competitiveness. Top universities were taken from the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, which are based on research output, and competitiveness indexes, from the World Economic Forum.
The following graphs show a strong relationship of 27% between the number of top universities and the country’s per capita income. The relationship is even stronger (41%) between the number of top universities and its competitiveness. The correlation with per capita income may raise questions of causality (it could well be that rich countries have better universities than poor ones because they can afford them). But the strong correlation with competitiveness, an independent, forward-looking measure of the capacity of continuous productivity improvements into the future, would support the idea that strong universities may indeed be a factor in driving competitiveness.
Here’s the distribution of top 300 universities per 10M population in the world: