The UK's reputation for world-class universities could be losing ground amid continuing fierce competition from overseas, according to international rankings. A number of Britain's institutions have fallen down a new global league table, with the nation's key centres of excellence now found in the "golden" triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, it claims.
The latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2014/15 powered by Thomson Reuters, shows that overall, the UK is holding its position, with 29 institutions in the top 200, more than any other country except the United States.
But this is also two less than last year.
Three UK institutions have fallen out of the top 200 - Reading University, Dundee and Newcastle, according to the rankings, while St George's, University of London makes a first appearance, moving into 196th place. London has four universities in the top 40 - more than any other city in the world, and a total of seven in the top 200 - the same number as France, and more than Japan, China, Sweden and Korea, the rankings say.
These are - Imperial College (9th), University College London (UCL) (22nd), London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) (34th), King's College London (KCL) (40th), Queen Mary, University of London (107th), Royal Holloway, University of London (118th) St George's, University of London (196th).
While some UK universities have slipped down the rankings, including UCL, Oxford, LSE, KCL and Durham, others have risen, such as Imperial, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow. The rankings rate universities worldwide on 13 measures including teaching, research and international outlook - such as numbers of overseas students and staff.
In first place overall was the California Institute of Technology in the US, holding on to the top spot for the fourth year running. Harvard was second and Oxford took third place, down one from joint second last year.
Rounding out the top five was Stanford University in the US in fourth, followed by Cambridge, which has moved up two places to fifth.
A total of 24 Asian universities now appear in the top 200 of the rankings - up from 20 last year. Two of these - Tokyo University and the National University of Singapore - are in the top 25.
Phil Baty, editor of the rankings, said: "East Asia's top universities continue their strong upward movement in the rankings, on the back of strong government financial support, strong leadership and a strong commitment to excellence in higher education and research."
He added: "At the same time, many Western universities, in many cases starved of vital public funding, are losing ground. There is much talk of a power shift from West to East, but these new world university rankings provide hard evidence of the phenomenon. There is little doubt that key East Asian nations have emerged as powerhouses in global higher education and research, while traditional leaders including the UK, Canada and the US, risk losing significant ground in the global knowledge economy."
Mr Baty said that the UK is continuing to "punch above its weight" on the rankings, with elite universities still highly competitive. But he warned: "Overall, the UK's representation among the world's leading universities is declining - three leading names fell out of the top 200 this year, and two others occupy 198th and 199th place. Five UK universities lost their top 400 places. This loss of power and influence is not good for the UK's overall competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Also, the UK's power is increasingly concentrated in the South East of England - the five top UK institutions in the world are all from the South East 'golden triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge and London. Indeed, of the nine English universities in the world top 100, six are from London and the South East."
The UK universities in this year's top 200, with last year's ranking in brackets, are:
- Oxford - 3rd place (2)
- Cambridge - 5th (7)
- Imperial College - 9th (10)
- University College London - 22nd (21)
- London School of Economics and Political Science - 34th (32)
- Edinburgh - 36th (39)
- King's College London - 40th (38)
- Manchester - 52nd (58)
- Bristol - 74th (79)
- Durham - 83rd (80)
- Glasgow - 94th (117)
- Warwick - 103rd (141)
- Queen Mary, University of London - 107 (114)
- St Andrews - 111th (117)
- Sussex - 111th (121)
- York - 113rd (100)
- Royal Holloway, University of London - 118th (102)
- Sheffield - 121st (112)
- Lancaster - 131st (137)
- Southampton - 132nd (146)
- Leeds - 146th (139)
- Birmingham - 148th (153)
- Exeter - 154th (148)
- Liverpool - 157th (169)
- Nottingham - 171st (157)
- Aberdeen - 178th (188)
- St George's, University of London - 196th (201-225)
- East Anglia - 198th (174)
- Leicester - 199th (161).