Degrees for Future World Leaders

Degrees for Future World Leaders

Laura Bridgestock

Updated May 7, 2024 Updated May 07

Got your sights set on a career in government and politics? You may think a degree in political science is the only way forward – but you’d be wrong. Find out what today’s world leaders studied at university...


India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, certainly has an impressive academic record. He studied economics at India’s Panjab University, followed by further degrees from the UK’s Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and spent time as a senior lecturer and professor in the subject.

It’s certainly not hard to see the appeal of having an expert in economics at the nation’s helm. Other economics graduates currently in leading roles (there are many) include Italian prime minister Mario Monti, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

Political science

OK, so a lot of successful politicians did study the obvious – including US president Barack Obama, Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe, and French president François Hollande.

The latter studied at both the Paris Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po) and the École Nationale d'Administration (ENA) – both of which are well known for producing high numbers of France’s leading politicians.

Philosophy (with politics and economics)

In the UK, it’s not just an institution which is known for producing future leaders – but a specific course. The University of Oxford’s ‘PPE’ program can boast a long list of high-profile politicians among its alumni, including current prime minister David Cameron, many of his cabinet, and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

Fans of the course cite its rigorous workload and interdisciplinary approach – and its reputation for producing top politicians does mean it tends to attract even more budding leaders.


Joining politics and economics among the most popular subjects for future politicians is law – the subject of choice for Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who completed her studies at the University of Melbourne.

Other leading law graduates include Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and US president Barack Obama – who followed his political science degree with graduate studies Harvard Law School, and a lectureship in law at the University of Chicago.

It’s not difficult to see how many of the skills gained in a law degree would be useful in politics: the ability to understand legal documents, evaluating sides of an argument – and of course the power of persuasion.

Natural sciences

Other social sciences – such as business and international studies – are also fairly common backgrounds for politicians, and again the reasons for this are fairly obvious.

However, social science faculties don’t have a complete monopoly on preparing the leaders of tomorrow. Take US energy secretary Steven Chu, whose physics research has been recognized with a Nobel Prize, or German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry.

Then there’s Singapore, where natural scientists really do rule the roost. President Tony Tan studied physics and has a PhD in applied mathematics, while prime minister Lee Hsien studied mathematics and computer science at Cambridge (followed by a Master of Public Administration at Harvard).


While Singapore’s top spots are currently taken by mathematicians, China’s government has in recent years attracted attention for having so many engineering graduates in leading roles.

Examples include current president Hu Jintao, who studied hydraulic engineering; premier Wen Jiabao, who completed postgraduate studies in geological engineering; and former president Jiang Zemin, who specialized in electrical engineering.

Why is this? Well, it could be that there’s a link to national priorities – infrastructure development is one of China’s biggest spending areas.

So, there are some subjects which make particular sense for those headed for a career in politics, and identifiable trends in different parts of the world. But then, there’s also a lot more to success in this arena than just having the ‘right’ degree!

This article was originally published in February 2013 . It was last updated in May 2024

Written by

The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'


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