Purpose: This paper investigates the two-way relationship between foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and higher education across 36 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for 1998–2019 periods. To demonstrate this relationship, the authors take into account the total number of graduates as well as the number of graduates from different fields. Accordingly, the authors gathered graduates in four groups which are education, social sciences, technical sciences (tech) and health. In addition to investigating two-way relationship between FDI and graduates, the authors also examined the contribution of primary and secondary level education to FDI. Design/methodology/approach: The authors use two models to investigate the bidirectional relationship between FDI inflows and graduates from four fields. In the first model, the dependent variable is FDI inflows, and in the second model, graduates from each field are the dependent variable. To investigate the dual relationship, the authors employ ordinary least squares (OLS) and two-step system generalized method of moments (GMM) developed by Arellano Bover (1995) and Blundell Bond (1998). Findings: For the first model, the results show that secondary level and higher education have a positive impact on FDI. In terms of graduates by fields, it is seen that education and health graduates contributed the most to FDI. For the second model in which the authors analysed the effect of FDI on total graduates and graduates from different fields, the authors find that FDI positively affects the number of graduates from all fields, and the strongest effect is on graduates from the social science field. Practical implications: Based on the results, the authors can say that well-educated people promote FDI inflows to OECD countries, and FDI is also a driving force in raising highly educated people. So, the authors think that the results will help design higher education policies in accordance with FDI and higher education connection. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to examine the impact of FDI inflows on graduates by fields and also to investigate the impact of graduates by fields on FDI.