The Times Higher 's second World University Rankings have fuelled debate in countries concerned about the future of their higher education systems.
The response was especially vigorous in Malaysia, where opposition politicians have used the rankings, published on October 28, to criticise the Government for the low international status of the country's universities.
Lim Kit Siang, a Malaysian MP and a leading light in the opposition DAP party, described the rankings as "a global blow".
The University of Malaya fell 80 places from 89 to 169, while the other Malaysian university to feature in 2004, Sains, dropped out of the top 200 after being in 111st place last year.
Mr Kit Siang called for a Royal Commission to look at the crisis.
He said: "In the 1960s, the University of Malaya was regarded as one of the premier universities of the world. We have fallen far behind other countries."
Mr Kit Siang pointed out that 23 universities in mainland Asia and Japan had beaten the University of Malaya in the rankings. A prime cause for alarm, he said, was that Chulalongkorn, Thailand's premier university, entered the rankings this year at 121.
He said that the presence of 17 Australian universities ahead of Malaysia was part of "the nation's shame and infamy".
Malaysia's fall in the rankings owes much to its far lower international percentage of both staff and students than in 2004, as well as its poor staff-student ratio. The compilers believe that the figures published in 2005 are a more-accurate reflection of the university's status than those of 2004.
John Hegarty, provost of Trinity College, Dublin, said on Irish radio last week that the rankings proved the need for a rapid increase in spending on teaching and research in Irish universities.
He told RTE Radio 1 that the world's top university, Harvard, had a bigger research budget than all the universities in the Republic and Northern Ireland put together.
Trinity is at 111 in this year's table, 24 places down on 2004, but no other Irish institution appears. The most surprising omission is University College Dublin, generally regarded in Ireland as being an institution of world standing.
- For the full World University Rankings tables click here