President's Blog

Countries with more top universities are the most economically competitive

With Kirk Heffelmire

In keeping with an annual tradition (see here, here, and here), we present the latest comparison between the density of top-ranked universities and economic competitiveness. Again, no surprise, the countries with more of the top universities relative to their population are also the most economically competitive.

Each year the ShaghaiRanking Consultancy publishes the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The ranking uses six objective measures of research production and scholarly achievement. The United States dominates the top of these rankings in absolute numbers, though not relative to its population. George Mason was one of the 99 American universities ranked in the top 300 universities in the world.

The World Economic Forum created the annual Global Competitiveness Index. This index measures the economic competitiveness of every country based on 12 pillars. These pillars use various indicators to cover aspects of competitiveness such as infrastructure, education, market efficiencies, and technological readiness.

This chart uses the most recent data to compare the relationship between the number of top 300 universities per 10 million of population with the countries’ economic competitiveness scores. The logarithmic trendline used here is a fairer representation of the relationship between these two variables when compared to a simple linear trendline. The r-squared value indicates that 58 percent of the variation in competitiveness can be explained by the number of top universities after adjusting for each country’s population size.

This simple demonstration marks the importance of education to competitiveness and vice versa. This does not support any causal claim whereby top universities independently create greater economic competitiveness. However, it is notable that very few countries with fewer than two top-ranked universities per 10 million people are among the most competitive.