Oxford University has tumbled down the global university league table, as British universities struggle to contend with competition from abroad.

Having previously held joint second place in The Times Higher Educational-QS World University Rankings, Oxford has now fallen to fourth place – one place behind its rival Cambridge.

Meanwhile, Harvard University retained their place at top of the table for the fifth consecutive year, whilst second-placed Yale University completed the top four.

This year’s rankings summed up a difficult 12 months for UK institutions, with only 17 universities featuring in the top 100, many of them losing ground on last year’s placings.

The annual rankings rate universities on how often other academics quote work done by experts from that institution, their tutor to student ratio, the number of overseas staff and students at the university and on two opinion surveys.

Academics were asked to nominate the world’s premier university for their specialty and employers were asked their opinions of graduates from different institutions.

Following the announcement of the rankings late last week, many experts have blamed the disappointing performance of British universities on the low amount of funding they receive in contrast to institutions abroad.

Harvard alone has an endowment fund larger than the annual public funding for all universities in the UK, while current spending on universities comprises only 1.3 per cent of the UK’s GDP.

Wendy Piatt, Director-General of the Russell Group, admitted that the table summed up the difficulties that the UK’s top research institutions were facing. “The table reflects the growing strength of our major competitors – particularly the US institutions – which benefit from much higher levels of investment than UK universities,” she said.

Dr Piatt added that further investment was necessary to prevent British universities succumbing further. Highlighting the increasing prominence of Asian institutions, she pointed out: “China already looks set to overtake the UK very soon in terms of total research publications, and its universities have been steadily climbing up international league tables.”

A spokesperson for the University confessed that the institution was currently severely handicapped in its efforts to properly compete with foreign universities.
“It has been the case for a long time that the University has been punching above its weight in the league tables given that it has so much less funding than its US rivals,” she said.