World ‘reputation’ rankings: US universities in lead
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are top of a global league table of university reputation – in a top 100 dominated by US institutions.
Cambridge and Oxford make the top 10 – but other UK universities have slipped, while Asian institutions have risen.
Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education rankings, says this is "uncomfortable news" for the UK.
The rankings are based on the perceptions of 17,000 academics.
This list is an attempt to quantify the elusive but important quality of "reputation" in higher education – with its findings based on the opinions of academics around the world.
The first such ranking by the Times Higher Education magazine, published last year, had the same top five as this year – with the two Boston-based institutions, Harvard and MIT, in first and second place.
Cambridge was once again the highest ranking UK university in third place, followed by Stanford and University of California, Berkeley.
Source: Times Higher Education
But Mr Baty says there is an underlying picture of UK universities heading downwards – with fewer in the top 100 and a decline for others including Imperial College London and University College London.
"Our global reputation as the home of outstanding universities has been hit," he said.
Reflecting the rise of Asian countries as the new education superpowers, there is an increasing presence for countries such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Switzerland is also seen as performing well, relative to its population, with three universities in the top 100.
Such rankings do not have an official status, but they have become an increasingly significant part of how universities market themselves to students, particularly as higher education has become more globalised.
This latest league table reinforces the emergence of "global superbrands", headed by institutions such as Stanford on the US West Coast and Harvard on the East Coast, and Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.
California, where universities have helped to drive digital industries, has four institutions in the top 10.
There has been growing economic and political importance attached to developing such "knowledge hubs", with the expectation that such advanced research bases can be the launchpads for hi-tech industries.
New York, wanting to compete with the Silicon Valley institutions in California and the research hubs in Boston, is deliberately trying to build its own science campus.
Such international rankings can also be disputed by university leaders.
In this case, the ranking of reputation was based on asking academics to nominate up to 15 of the "best" universities in their field of expertise.
The responses have put 44 US universities in the top 100 – and 44% of responses came from academics in US universities.
There were 28% of responses from Europe and 25% from Asia and the Middle East.
The preponderance of science institutions in the top five might reflect that only 7% of contributors were in the arts and humanities, with a large majority of opinions coming from the sciences.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "British universities have an enviable global reputation for excellence – with only 4% of the world's researchers, we publish 14% of the most cited articles.
"Our reforms are designed to safeguard and improve the standing of British research and will put a renewed focus on the importance of excellent teaching."
The Russell Group of leading UK universities said it showed that the UK needed to match the ambitions of competitors.
"We are concerned that our global competitors in the US, East Asia and Europe are pumping billions into higher education – and money really matters," said the group's director general, Wendy Piatt.
Labour's higher education spokeswoman, Shabana Mahmood, said the government "should sit up and take note of the relative decline of UK institutions compared to those in Europe, the Far East and Australia".
She blamed changes to funding for "damaging" the standing of UK universities.
Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers' union, warned that the decline in the position of UK universities reflected the need for investment.
"The UK continues to punch above its weight on the global stage, but while other countries, particularly in Asia, are investing in their universities, our sector is beset by funding uncertainties caused by ill-thought through government policy."