The UK could be losing its status as a home for top class universities, the latest set of world rankings reveals.
Although Oxford comes in joint second – alongside Harvard – in the latest Times Higher Education figures, and Cambridge seventh, most British universities have tumbled down this year’s list.
The universities of Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Warwick, Southampton, Nottingham and Newcastle have all seen their positions fall – though London has managed to improve its standing.
In fact, the capital has more universities in the top 40 than any other city in the world with four, up one on last year, beating major economies like Japan and China. Imperial College, which specialises in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is down two places this year, in tenth place.
Phil Baty, the rankings editor of Times Higher Education, said that the list raised “concerns for our ‘brand name’ institutions”.
“While the UK remains stable nationally, this masks significant movement among individual institutions,” he said. “Our analysts have found that there are clear signs of increasing diversification in the UK system, suggesting that marketisation is driving change and causing greater stratification.”
He added: "Imperial, UCL plus the universities of Manchester and Bristol have all slipped to varying degrees. Although other institutions have risen, and some significantly, such global brands act as flagships for the rest of the UK, so this is a worry."
Despite these fears, the UK is still the second strongest nation for higher education in the world after the US, with 31 institutions in the top 200.
These include UCL in 21 (down four spots), LSE in 32 (up by seven), KCL in 38 (up 19), Edinburgh in 39 (down seven), Manchester in 58 (down nine), Bristol in 79 (down five), and Durham staying even in 80.
The US predictably dominates, with seven universities in the top 10, and 77 in the top 200. California Institute of Technology comes first, followed by Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Princeton. The Netherlands is the next best represented, with 12 in the top 200, though its leading institution, Leiden, only reaches 67.
The top European university is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, in 14th place. Asia’s best university, the University of Tokyo, comes in at 23rd.
In total, 26 countries make the top 200, two more than last year, with Turkey, Spain and Norway all rejoining,a and Brazil losing out.
Other British universities to make the top 200 include York (=100th), Royal Holloway (102nd), Sheffield (=112th), Queen Mary, University of London (=114th), Glasgow and St Andrews (both =117th), Sussex (=121st), Lancaster (137th), Leeds (=139th), Warwick (141st), Southampton (=146th), Exeter (=148th), Birmingham (153rd), Nottingham (=157th), Leicester (=161st), Liverpool (169th), UEA (=174th), Aberdeen (=188th), Reading (=194th), Dundee (196th) and Newcastle (198th).
David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said that UK universities’ “fantastic reputation” testifies to their hard work, and that of their staff and students.
"However we cannot be complacent, with other countries determined to emulate our success,” he added.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director of the Russell Group of universities said that although the government’s protecting research spending was welcome, “investment in the UK still lags far behind the US, China and many other Western European countries.”