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Top Countries for PhD Students

Considering pursuing a PhD? After deciding on your dream program, the next question is - where to study? These are our favorite countries for PhD students.

Dec 29, 2023
  • Study Abroad
Top Countries for PhD Students

✨ 5-second summary

Top countries for PhD students in:

  • Business: Japan
  • STEM: Canada
  • Alt-ac track: Australia

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela, one of our most inspiring leaders in the 21st century.

Clearly, education opens doors and is one of the most valuable investments you can make in your future. Perhaps you’re considering pursuing a PhD. This is a huge decision and we recommend you do your research to find the best program that fits with your expectations about coursework, advisors, and ultimately, will prepare you for success in your future career goals. Maybe, along the way, you just might, also, change the world!

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Criteria for choosing top countries for PhD students

PhD students, generally, spend three to five years working towards a postdoctoral graduate degree and must complete a thesis or dissertation that significantly contributes to advancing their field of study.

Each program has its own specific degree requirements, and aside from those, you will want to make sure you find a program that both supports your project and research and one that pairs you with a helpful supervisor or advisor who is invested in helping you along the PhD road from the beginning to successful completion.

Access to the right resources -- libraries, archives, laboratories, collaborative opportunities, and research materials -- are also essential to PhD success, and finding the right combination of resources, support, and program requirements may mean looking outside of your current undergraduate or graduate institution. In fact, for many prospective PhD students, it can be beneficial to consider what other countries have to offer for PhD programs. Depending on the field of study, you might find your ideal program in another region or country.

PhD programs abroad may also offer advantages over the domestic options: more funding for the field of study you are specializing in; particular faculty or researchers that are working internationally on projects that interest you; opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges that will benefit your project; access to more grants or different types of financial aid normally not offered; or advancing your skills in translation or a foreign language. This last advantage can be particularly beneficial to PhD students whose fields demand proficiency in a second (or even third) language.

Here we have highlighted some of the best of what certain countries have to offer for PhD programs -- take a look, then get your passport ready!

1. Consider Israel for natural sciences

A country of long history, political upheaval, and striking landscapes, Israel also offers highly competitive PhD programs and is often overlooked by potential candidates. According to The Jewish Press, the number of Israeli-Arab PhD candidates has nearly doubled in a decade. It also reports, “In 2018, 40 percent of doctoral students from the Arab sector studied in the fields of engineering and natural sciences, and 40 percent in the fields of social sciences and life sciences.” If you are considering advancing your studies in these fields, we recommend you take a look.

Additionally, Israel has an excellent reputation in the field of neuroscience. Known for excellence in research and their reputation for graduating excellent students, those interested in neuroscience should make sure they look at what Israel has to offer. Fellowship opportunities in Israel are even available! If you have already finished a PhD and are looking for post-doctoral opportunities, Israel also offers great opportunities like the Alon Fellowship, among many others.

2. Look to Japan for business opportunities

Did you have a poster of the wave cresting in the foreground with Mount Fuji serene in the distance in your college dorm room? Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of Japan’s most recognizable exports. But, there’s more to Japan than just sushi and a ubiquitous painting. Japan also boasts of highly respected advanced higher education and PhD programs. “Japanese education is qualitative, intense and comprehensive -- and did you expect anything less from one of the most developed countries in the world? Because of the country’s favorable reputation among foreigners, it attracts many international students every year. Also, the country houses some of the internationally-acclaimed universities in the world,” writes CEO World.

If you are concerned about paying for your time and studies in Japan, then rest easy -- there are many scholarships and fellowships available for qualified and distinguished candidates. A little research into scholarships to study in Japan reveals their competitive nature, but if you are lucky enough to make the cut, it’s completely worth it. What's more, University World News reports that Japan wants to keep their newly minted PhD graduates in country. It reports, “Japan is hiring foreign talent and it is now a top priority that international students attending Japanese universities stay on in the country, with the government offering new incentives such as subsidized company internships, help with finding jobs after graduation, stepped-up Japanese language courses and more streamlined processes for work visas after graduation.”

3. Aim for Australia if you’re on an alt-ac track

A vast country with cosmopolitan cities, pristine beaches, and large untracked wilderness (and of course kangaroos), Australia also has many PhD opportunities to offer. Alongside kangaroos, Australia also offers many scholarship opportunities for graduate study and it encourages its graduates from higher education programs to work in the private sector. According to The Financial Review, the country is focusing on not just careers in academia but careers in business post-PhD, which are generally more lucrative and stable jobs.

One of the major benefits of studying abroad in Australia is that the country has recently rolled out a program to grant quicker access to permanent residency for international students. SBS explains, “International students who have studied at least two years in Western Australia at a Western Australian University, have an available occupation on the new Graduate occupation list, have a full-time job offer for more than twelve months and can prove ‘proficient English’ will be eligible under the state government’s graduate stream.”

4. Canada is a great option for STEM PhDs

Love maple trees, the color red, or ice hockey? Then studying in Canada, home to all of these stereotypes, could be for you. Find out for yourself in a PhD program and eat all the poutine (a classic Canadian dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with gravy) you could ever hope for!

In all seriousness, Canada offers excellent PhD programs, and for someone interested in science or engineering, you need look no further. With governmental incentives to increase PhD students in Canada, Brenda Brouwer, president of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, writes with enthusiasm about the role PhD graduates play in Canada’s future. She asserts, “Education is never an individual or solely an institutional endeavour. More than ever, we need to consider it a communal undertaking built on partnerships and shared values that, planned well, reap both individual and societal returns. PhD holders raise that bar in our communities, businesses, schools and seats of government by driving productivity through research, innovation and creativity. To extend these opportunities requires multi-sectoral investment, vision and attitudinal desire to support growth and development. Canada should be up to it -- our PhDs certainly are.” Many scholarship opportunities are available for study in Canada, but the most coveted benefit of studying in Canada, for some, is easier access to a residence permit for students and PhD graduates through Canada’s express entry.

5. Find Funded Research Opportunities in Russia

Could Moscow be calling you? Russia boasts leading universities in research aside from world-renowned vodka and long, cold winters. If you’re concerned about the language barrier, don't worry! Most PhD programs in Russia offer study in English. However, some do require a working knowledge of the Russian language or a willingness to learn. Science, medicine, and engineering PhD programs are popular in Russia, and they might not break your bank account. Russian tuition fees tend to be lower than those in other PhD programs in Europe. Use this to your advantage when negotiating with other programs. Oya Opportunities gives examples of fully funded Russian government scholarships and offers some helpful facts and numbers: “The Russian higher education system consists of more than 650 state universities where about 9 million people study; more than 300,000 of these come from about 200 different countries.”

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” famously quipped Benjamin Franklin, American inventor and innovator. It’s true. If you are considering pursuing a PhD, then you know how much of an investment it is in time and resources towards the direction of your future success, both personally and professionally. What’s more rewarding than learning? Well..there’s no guarantee, but we think learning simultaneously advances your studies in a PhD program and opens doors you never knew even existed. That door might be on the other side of the world!

Keystone Team


The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.