The number of institutions ranked among the world’s elite has dropped in the last 12 months after Britain’s reputation for higher education was undermined by images of large-scale protests in Westminster, it is claimed.
A global league table shows just 10 universities are now listed among the top 100 – two down on 2011 – and only Oxford and Cambridge remain in the top 10.
The rankings, published by Times Higher Education magazine, also show that Britain is losing ground to universities in the Far East following increased investment in higher education in China, Japan and Singapore.
Phil Baty, the magazine’s rankings editor, said British universities were increasingly “perceived as a fading power” because of recent public funding cuts combined with rising student fees and a clampdown on international students.
“The messages we are sending to the world about our commitment to funding our universities, fuelled by the images of students protesting in Westminster, on top of our clampdown on overseas students, are not playing well globally,” he said.
“There is a clear risk that our universities, other than the elite ‘super-brands’ of Oxford and Cambridge, will be relegated from the premier league of institutions in the eyes of the world, with tangible and sustained damage.”
The 2012 “world reputation rankings” are based on a survey of 17,554 academics from 137 countries.
According to figures, Harvard University in the United States was named the best institution by academics for the second year running. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was second followed by Cambridge – the same top three as 2011.
Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, were fourth and fifth, while Oxford was named sixth.
But the study found that many other British universities had slipped in the global standings.
Just eight other institutions – Imperial College, University College London, the London School of Economics, Edinburgh, Manchester, King’s College London, Leeds and Bristol – were named in the top 100.
Sheffield University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine dropped out of the top 100 altogether after being named among the global elite in 2011.
The Times Higher insisted that the Far East performed very strongly, “signalling the start of a power shift from West to East”.
Two Japanese universities – Toyko and Kyoto – were named among the top 20. China’s two representatives in the top 100 – Tsinghua and Peking – also climbed up the table along with the University of Hong Kong, the National Taiwan University and the National University of Singapore.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “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.”
Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister, 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.
“This is symptomatic of the chaos and confusion being created by the government as a result of their rapid changes to higher education.”
But a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “British universities have an enviable global reputation for excellence – with only four per cent of the world’s researchers we publish 14 per cent of 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.”