Although higher education has been associated with lower mortality rates in many studies, the effect of potential improvements in educational distribution on future mortality levels is unknown. We therefore estimated the impact of projected increases in higher education on mortality in European populations. We used mortality and population data according to educational level from 21 European populations and developed counterfactual scenarios. The first scenario represented the improvement in the future distribution of educational attainment as expected on the basis of an assumption of cohort replacement. We estimated the effect of this counterfactual scenario on mortality with a 10-15-year time horizon among men and women aged 30-79 years using a specially developed tool based on population attributable fractions (PAF). We compared this with a second, upward levelling scenario in which everyone has obtained tertiary education. The reduction of mortality in the cohort replacement scenario ranged from 1.9 to 10.1% for men and from 1.7 to 9.0% for women. The reduction of mortality in the upward levelling scenario ranged from 22.0 to 57.0% for men and from 9.6 to 50.0% for women. The cohort replacement scenario was estimated to achieve only part (4-25% (men) and 10-31% (women)) of the potential mortality decrease seen in the upward levelling scenario. We concluded that the effect of on-going improvements in educational attainment on average mortality in the population differs across Europe, and can be substantial. Further investments in education may have important positive side-effects on population health.