The Smartest Countries in the World – Where does the UK Stand?

The Smartest Countries in the World – Where does the UK Stand?

Sign up for blog updates and get an instant 10% off code for NCC Home Learning courses.

It’s natural for countries to want to gauge how well they perform against others – you only have to glance at the Olympics to see this in action.

Updated August 2022

But can you also pit countries against each other when it comes to intellect? Using a few different rubrics, such as IQ, school quality, and Nobel Prize winners, we’ve ranked the UK against other nations to identify the smartest country in the world.

Which countries are the smartest in the world?

When it comes to intelligence, there is no cut-and-dry answer – you have to look at a variety of factors. The issue with IQ testing is that it is deeply flawed. More reliable methods of testing a country’s intelligence include The Intelligence Capital Index, or ICI.[10] The ICI uses many complex and related factors to predict which countries will be the thought leaders of the future. According to the 2017 ICI, these are the world’s smartest countries:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Australia
  5. Singapore
  6. Sweden
  7. Switzerland
  8. Canada
  9. Finland
  10. Denmark.

Similarly, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development uses a plethora of information, including adult education levels, to rate nations by intelligence.[11] According to their most recent rankings, Canada was listed as the world’s smartest country, followed by Japan and Israel. The UK, followed by Korea, the US, Australia, and Finland, came next.

So, it’s clear than the UK isn’t doing too poorly when it comes to intelligence. However, it’s always a smart choice to boost your IQ! Who knows – as an added bonus, you could end up helping the UK’s global ranking.

Which countries have the highest IQs?

IQ testing has been a popular way to assess intelligence for more than a century. While IQ tests are flawed (see below), they are still commonly held up as proof that some countries are doing better than others in the brain department. In a 2006 study, British professor Richard Lynn measured the IQ of citizens of more than eighty countries.[1] He found that Singapore and Hong Kong came out on top, followed by South Korea, Japan, and China – arguably making Asia home to the smartest countries in the world.

CountryAverage IQ Number2021    Population
1. Singapore1085,896,686
1. Hong Kong1087,552,810
3. South Korea10651,305,186
4. Japan105126,050,804
4. China1051,444,216,107
6. Taiwan10423,855,010
7. Italy10260,367,477
8. Iceland101343,353
8. Mongolia1013,329,289
8. Switzerland1018,715,494
11. Luxembourg100634,814
11. Norway1005,465,630
11. Austria1009,043,070
11. Netherlands10017,173,099
11. United Kingdom10068,207,116
16. Estonia991,325,185
16. Finland995,548,360
16. Sweden9910,160,169
16. Belgium9911,632,326
16. Poland9937,797,005

According to this chart, the UK isn’t doing that well – we’re down at 15, while five East Asian countries top the list. So, does that mean the UK is struggling? Are we falling behind in terms of brains and intelligence? Or could it simply mean that our education system isn’t designed with rote memorisation and testing as a top priority?

In certain East Asian countries, a high level of importance is placed on testing and grades. For instance, in China a lot less time is spent on group work and the arts in school.[2] With more time in class spent preparing for standardised tests, it’s no wonder that these students excel on IQ tests.

The problem with IQ testing

It’s impossible to look at this information without addressing biases in standardised IQ testing. Giving the same test to people from widely differing communities fails to take different cultural values into account and does not recognise what different communities consider ‘intelligent behaviour.’[3]

If an IQ test is written in Finland with the intention of testing Finnish students, it likely includes cultural contexts specific to that country. In fact, if it is written by an upper middle class white Finn from Helsinki, it might be biased by an even more specific cultural context. If a lower-income Sami person (an Indigenous Finn) from Espoo took the same test, they may not perform as well as a fellow upper-middle-class white Finn from Helsinki. Context matters.

Even though test writers try their hardest to remove cultural context from their IQ tests, it is nearly impossible. So, when we see that certain Asian and European countries always top the lists while others, including African and South American nations, rarely make the cut, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt.

Who has the best schools in the world?

According to the 2021 Best Countries for Education survey, the UK has a high standing at number two, just behind the US.[4] The results are based on three equally weighted attributes, including excellent public education, international university reputation, and provision of top-quality education.

Based on these attributes, the top ten countries with the best schools are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Switzerland
  7. Japan
  8. Australia
  9. Sweden
  10. Netherlands

However, looking at test results alone, the data might tell a different story.[5]

CountryTotal ScoreReading ScoreMaths ScoreScience Score
1.       China1731556600575
2.       Hong Kong1637533555549
3.       Finland1631536541554
4.       Singapore1630526562542
5.       South Korea1623539546538
6.       Japan1588520529539
7.       Canada1580524527529
8.       New Zealand1572521519532
9.       Taiwan1558495543520
10.   Netherlands1556508526522
       21. United Kingdom1500494492514

Again, similarly to the IQ chart results listed above, you can see that East Asian students rank highest for reading scores, maths scores, and science scores. The explanation is likely the same. The education systems in these countries are highly focused on test results and grades, particularly in these areas of study. Parents, teachers, and the culture in general are all highly geared towards excellence in standardised testing. Even when families from China move to Western countries, this cultural dedication to academic achievements remains.[6]

While there are undoubtedly some extremely smart and intelligent students in China, South Korea, and Japan, there are equally intelligent children in Nepal, Malawi, and Guatemala. However, many children in the latter countries lack the same kind of systemic access to educational opportunities.

Which countries have the most Nobel prize winners?

Another interesting way to determine a country’s collective intellect might be by assessing its number of Nobel Prizes. A Nobel Prize is one of six major international prizes awarded annually for excellent work in chemistry, literature, economics, physics, physiology or medicine, and the promotion of peace.[7] First awarded in 1901, they are judged by elite members of Swedish academic societies, other than the peace prize, which is judged by the Norwegian Parliament.

Here are the top ten countries with the most Nobel Prizes[8]:

CountryNumber of Nobel Prize Winners2021 Population
United States375332,915,073
United Kingdom13168,207,116

As with the other categories above, it’s always important to note the historical inequality in the distribution of the awards. A shocking 83% of all Nobel laureates have come from Western countries (Europe, Australia, North America), which disregards the immense contributions from Asia, Africa, and South America.[9] This is not only based on historical biases, but also on unequal global resource distribution. It’s worth taking this measure of international intelligence with a grain of salt.

So, what can you do to boost your IQ?

Now that you know where the UK stands on the global IQ tables, are you more interested in boosting your own IQ? Reading widely across many subjects is one of the most important things you can do to flex your mental muscles and boost your IQ. Take up a wide number of hobbies and keep your brain flexible, always learning new things.

Home learning courses are another great way to improve your cognitive abilities and increase your IQ. Remember – your IQ isn’t necessarily based on the facts and figures you know, but on your ability to learn, reason, and process new information.













Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
Like this article? Spread the word

Related courses you may also like