You point out that the US dominates the THE World University Rankings and that the UK is in second place. While the effects of spending on higher education as a proportion of GDP are discussed, there is no mention of the importance of population in these tables.
Adjusting the figures for population size reveals a different order, with Switzerland emerging as the clear winner with 47.8 aggregate points per million people.
Using this approach, the remainder of the top 10 is as follows: Hong Kong (36.5), Sweden (34.4), the Netherlands (31.0), Denmark (.9), the UK (.8), Ireland (26.2), Singapore (23.9), Australia (18.6) and Canada (15.7). The US is 11th (15.4), Germany is 18th (9.0), France 20th (3.8) and Japan 21st (2.4).
So with the notable exception of the UK, it is clear that the best universities are more likely to be found in countries with a population of less than 20 million, that are not nuclear powers and have not won the World Cup.
Brian McGaw, Dean of science, technology and engineering, La Trobe University, Australia.