Cambridge has been knocked off its perch as the world's leading university – a position it had held for two years.
It has been overtaken by another Cambridge-based seat of learning – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge, near Boston, in the US.
The QS World University Rankings, which are widely recognised throughout higher education as the most trusted international tables, also show that Oxford no longer ranks among the top two British universities. It has been beaten by University College London, in fourth place, while Oxford is fifth.
The QS World University Rankings were first published in 2003 and, for the first six years, Harvard claimed top spot. It was third this year.
MIT, which enrolled 4,384 undergraduates and 6,510 graduates last year, frequently has 10 times as many students applying as it can offer places to. It was founded in 1861 and has always had a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.
The QS table is an annual ranking of the top 700 universities in the world and is compiled in close consultation with an international advisory board of leading academics. Four key items are taken into account: research, teaching, employability and internationalisation.
Britain has an unprecedented four of the top six places this year, with Imperial College, London, ranked No6.
The table shows the world's top 100 universities have increased their number of overseas students by 10 per cent over the last year.
The 49 UK universities ranked in the top 500 have posted an average increase of 11.7 per cent with only six institutions reporting fewer international students than last year.