Some of the world’s most well known leaders have proven themselves not only as the heads of their respective governments and states, but also within the walls of their former college classrooms. These ten leaders know the value of hard work and dedication, because they themselves have previously put the time and effort into obtaining doctorate degrees. Regardless of the field studied, the level of education they have achieved is impressive by any standard. Read on to find out more about ten of the world’s most learned leaders.
10. Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov – Turkmenistan
Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov has been the elected president of Turkmenistan since 2007, but his journey to the top was a little unconventional. In 1979 Berdymuhamedov graduated from Ashgaba’s Turkmen State Medical Institute and embarked on a career as a dentist. Then in 1990 he obtained his Ph.D. in medical sciences in Moscow. Five years later he took over as the Turkmen Ministry of Health’s head of dentistry and also became dean of the dentistry department at the Turkmen State Medical Institute. Explaining his choice to enter the medical field, Berdymuhamedov has stated, “This necessity in empathy my parents had instilled in me in the childhood influenced, to the considerable extent, my choice to devote my life to medicine.”
In 1997 Berdymuhamedov became Turkmenistan’s Minister of Health, and four years later he was named the country’s Deputy Prime Minister. After the 2006 death of the former president, Saparmurat Niyazov, Berdymuhamedov was chosen as Turkmenistan’s acting president, and he was officially sworn in on February 14, 2007. Berdymuhamedov was re-elected in February 2012.
9. Karolos Papoulias – Greece
Greece’s multi-lingual president, Karolos Papoulias, speaks French, German and Italian as well as his mother tongue. Papoulias attended the University of Athens and the University of Milan, reading law at both institutions. He attained his Ph.D. in private international law at the University of Cologne before going on to work as a lawyer from 1963.
In 1977 Papoulias was voted into the Hellenic Parliament, and he has served in several different governmental capacities since then. From 1981 he worked his way up through ministerial positions in the government’s foreign affairs department, and in July 1985 he took over as Greece’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, a role he fulfilled for four years. He served as the Alternate Minister for National Defence for a three-month period between November 1989 and February 1990. Then in 1993 he returned to his post as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, this time holding on to the position until 1996. Papoulias officially took over as President of Greece in March 2005 and was subsequently re-elected in February 2010. Interestingly, he has written various published articles and studies and also authored a book on Greece’s resistance to the Nazis.
8. Xi Jinping – China
The current leader of China, Xi Jinping, began his working life on a Shaanxi Province farm as a 16-year-old teenager. In 1971 Xi became a member of the Communist Youth League of China, and he joined the Communist Party of China three years later. In 1975 he began reading chemical engineering at Beijing’s esteemed Tsinghua University, going on to graduate in 1979. Years later, in 1998, Xi returned to Tsinghua University, and he achieved his law doctorate degree in 2002, having concentrated on Marxist philosophy and ideological education.
As for his time in office, Xi started working for the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China in October 2007. He tookimage placeholder over as the official Vice President of China in March 2008. And then on March 14, 2013, he was voted in as President of the People’s Republic of China. Interestingly, Xi is the first Communist Party head to talk Mandarin without a regional accent.
7. Ivo Josipović – Croatia
His political career aside, Croatia’s third president, Ivo Josipović, has been employed as a professor, a legal specialist and a musician. Josipović studied law at the University of Zagreb and graduated in 1980. He then started lecturing at the university and earned his master’s degree in 1985. Later, in 1994, he went on to obtain his Ph.D in criminal sciences. Truly multi-talented, Josipović also read composition at the University of Zagreb’s Academy of Music, graduating in 1983 and going on to lecture at the school, too.
Meanwhile, in 1980 he joined the League of Communists of Croatia and had a hand in turning the party into the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP). Josipović abandoned politics in 1994 to focus on his legal and musical pursuits, but in 2003 he rejoined the political arena in association with the SDP. He took on the role of vice president of the party’s parliamentary representative group and in 2007 was voted back into the Croatian parliament. In June 2009 Josipović was put forward as one of the SDP’s presidential candidates, and on January 10, 2022 he won the elections and became the new president of his country. This high achiever has also written a number of books and 85 papers as well as award-winning musical compositions.
6. Abdullah Gül – Turkey
Abdullah Gül traveled from his hometown of Kayseri to Istanbul University to study, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1971. From 1980 to 1983, Gül played a role in the establishment of the University of Sakarya’s engineering department while additionally teaching economics. Also in 1983, he obtained his Ph.D. from Istanbul University and attended courses offered by U.K universities. Gül then went on to work as an economist at Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Development Bank.
In 1991 Gül took on an associate professorship in international economics with Istanbul University and was also voted into parliament as a member of Turkey’s Welfare Party – later becoming its deputy chairman overseeing foreign affairs. In November 2002, after twice operating as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Gül served as the interim Prime Minister of Turkey, a position he held for four months. In March 2003 he became the country’s foreign minister and also took over as Deputy Prime Minister. Finally, on August 28, 2007, Gül was sworn in as Turkey’s 11th president – the first in recent history to have Islamic roots.
Interestingly, Gül has stated, “Turkey’s first privilege should be raising the quality of the existing education system. A big population that has become qualified with education and science represents a serious power.”
5. Hassan Rouhani – Iran
President of Iran Hassan Rouhani began his religious learning when he was 12 years old. After attending Semnan and Qom seminaries, Rouhani was accepted to study at the University of Tehran in 1969. He read judicial law, was awarded his bachelor’s degree in 1972, and then joined the military the following year. Then after fleeing his country in 1977 and returning two years later following the Iranian Revolution, Rouhani became part of the new government. High-level military governmental roles beckoned throughout the 1980s.
Later, Rouhani returned to school, obtaining his M.Phil. law degree from Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian University in 1995. He then continued studying at the same institution, obtaining his Ph.D. in constitutional law four years later. While reading for his M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees, Rouhani was at the same time the then Iranian president’s national security adviser, between 1989 and 1997. Furthermore, from 1989 to 2005 he served as the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. In August 2005 Rouhani stepped down from this role when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran. Then in 2013 Rouhani himself ran for office and won the June election, becoming Iran’s seventh president.
4. Angela Merkel – Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be the only female world leader on this list, but her haul of academic credentials is as impressive as those of any of her male counterparts. As a schoolgirl, Merkel was, like the majority of her peers, part of the Free German Youth communist movement. At this time, she also studied Russian and won awards for her ability in both Russian and math. In 1973 Merkel went on to read physics at Leipzig University, where she remained for five years, earning a doctorate with a thesis on quantum chemistry. Then between 1978 and 1990 she carried out research in physical chemistry at Berlin’s Academy of Sciences.
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Merkel launched her political career when she signed up with the nascent Democratic Awakening party, going on to assume the role of deputy spokesperson for the stand-in pre-unification government. In 1990 she joined the Christian Democratic Union, and after being voted in during the first post-reunification elections, she held a couple of prominent cabinet positions. Then in 1998 she became the party’s secretary general, rising to be elected its leader two years later. In 2002 Merkel lost her candidacy battle to become chancellor, but in 2005 she was nominated as challenger and won the election, making history as Germany’s first female chancellor and the first leader of the unified country to hail from former East Germany.
3. Manmohan Singh – India
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed an interest in education from a very young age. Despite there being no electricity in Gah, the village where he was born, he was so determined to learn that he studied by candlelight. Singh went on to study at Hindu College in Amritsar and then Panjab University, Chandigarh, reading economics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 and a master’s two years later, graduating with first class honors both times. And with his thirst for knowledge still not satiated, Singh traveled to the U.K., where he obtained another first class honors degree at Cambridge University in 1957 and then a doctorate from Oxford University in 1962, again in the field of economics.
After that, Singh moved back to India and began teaching at Panjab University and the Delhi School of Economics. He moved on to assume various governmental roles and in due course became the Prime Minister’s economic adviser, in 1990. The following year Singh took up the position of India’s finance minister, and he eventually became the country’s prime minister in May 2004. During Singh’s term, the country saw increased economic growth – which perhaps isn’t surprising under the government of a man who pursued such a high level of education in the subject area. On May 22, 2009, Singh was reinstated as Prime Minister, making him the first Indian leader in 40 years to make such a return following a full term.
2. Elio Di Rupo – Belgium
Elio Di Rupo arguably had a lot going against him when, on December 6, 2011, he took up office as Prime Minister of Belgium. He is a French speaker, openly homosexual, leftwing and an atheist – in a country where the majority of the population speaks Dutch and tends to elect more conservative government heads. Di Rupo earned both his master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Mons. Between 1977 and 1978 he taught at the University of Leeds in the U.K. while he was working towards his doctorate degree.
Di Rupo embarked on his path in politics in 1980, working in the role of an attaché tied to Jean-Maurice Dehousse’s cabinet. He was voted into the Chamber of Deputies in 1987 and was appointed a senator in 1991. Then in 1994 Di Rupo became the Belgian federal government’s deputy prime minister, and the following year he was additionally named as Minister for the Economy and Telecommunications. Despite having faced different scandals and corruption throughout his political career, Di Rupo has persevered, and on December 6, 2011, he assumed office as Prime Minister of Belgium.
1. Mohamed Morsi – Egypt
Mohamed Morsi grew up in Sharqiya, in Egypt’s Nile River Delta region. He read engineering at Cairo University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1975 and a master’s in 1978, before traveling to the U.S. to further his studies. Morsi achieved his Ph.D. in materials science at the University of Southern California in 1982 and then held an assistant professorship at California State University, Northridge up to 1985. That year, he moved back to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University, working as head of the materials engineering faculty until 2010.
Between 2000 and 2005 Morsi was a parliamentary independent for the Muslim Brotherhood. Then following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood established the Freedom & Justice Party, and Morsi became its president. In June 2012 he became arguably the first Egyptian president to be elected through democratic process, but his presidency was short-lived. Morsi’s apparent desire for unrestricted power and strict Islamist lawmaking did not sit well with Egyptians, who protested on the streets in 2012. Morsi was subsequently removed from power by Egyptian armed forces in July 2013. At the time of writing, a permanent replacement for Morsi has not been elected, although Adly Mansour took on the role of acting president when Morsi was deposed.