Oxford University has come sixth in this year’s QS World University Rankings, the same place as last year. This places it second among UK universities, behind Cambridge.

For the first time since the league table began in 2004, US universities hold all top three positions of the QS World University Rankings. Whilst the University of Cambridge remains the UK’s top ranked institution, it has dropped from third to fourth position. The 13th edition of the rankings puts Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the world’s best university for the fifth consecutive year. In second place, up from joint third in 2015 is Stanford, and down from second place to third is Harvard.

University College London and Imperial College London made the global top 10 in seventh and eighth place respectively. The University of Edinburgh joined the top 20 and the University of Manchester entered the top 30.

The QS World University Rankings is an annual league table of the top universities in the world compiled by the QS Intelligence Unit in consultation with an international advisory board of academics. The QS World University Rankings are based four key criteria; research, teaching, employability and internationalisation.

However, this is the worst performance in QS rankings from British institutions in recent years; 38 of the United Kingdom’s 48 top-400 universities dropped down in the 2016-17 rankings. Although the United Kingdom retains its position as the world’s second-best country for higher education, evidence suggests Asian universities are gaining ground.

Of the 48 UK universities in the top-400, only 6 have risen (12 per cent), compared to 78 US universities, of which 47 per cent have risen, and 74 Asian universities, of which 68 per cent have risen.

Ben Sowter, Head of Research at QS, observed that uncertainty and long-term funding issues have impacted negatively on the UK’s performance. For the second year running, China, which continues to benefit from generous state research funding, has more universities in the top 100 for citations per faculty than the UK.

Sowter argued, “uncertainty over research funding, immigration rules, and the ability to hire and retain the top young talent from around the world seems to be damaging the reputation of the UK’s higher education sector.”

73% of the UK’s top-400 universities have seen a drop in both academic reputation and employer reputation, whilst 58% have seen a fall in international faculty numbers. Although the EU referendum took place after the survey, it added to this uncertainty. Sowter also highlighted reduction in real terms funding from the government for research in higher education as a contributory factor.

QS also pointed out, however, that the 2016 position of UK universities is redeemable, “the Chancellor’s pledge to guarantee EU-funding levels for research projects signed before this year’s Autumn Statement is a good step to tackle both issues. More measures along these lines would go a long way to help the UK retain its global excellence.”