Oxford and Cambridge universities are the only challengers to US domination of the leading places in the first global ranking of universities to sample the views of academics across the world.
Harvard University secures top place in the inaugural World University Rankings compiled by The Times Higher . Harvard beat by some distance the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology, which came in at second, third and fourth places respectively.
In fifth and sixth places, Oxford and Cambridge emerge as the highest ranked institutions outside the US. The London School of Economics and Imperial College are ranked 11th and 14th respectively.
The US boasts seven institutions among the top ten universities in the world. But the rankings, based on the opinions of academic experts and the latest measures of research excellence and teaching capacity, reveal an academic elite scattered across the globe.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Tokyo University in Japan, Beijing University in China, the Australian National University and the National University of Singapore all feature in the top 20.
John Hood, vice-chancellor of Oxford, said: "This is a very welcome endorsement of our successes at Oxford and the transformation in our governance in recent years, led by my predecessors. It has been achieved in spite of serious under-resourcing and consequent overdependency on institutional reserves.
"Increased revenues from the Government's research policies and from fees will alleviate this pressure somewhat, but they will not be sufficient to maintain our international competitiveness against the aggressive investment trends across the Atlantic."
At the heart of the World University Rankings is an unprecedented survey of 1,300 academics in 88 countries, spanning the academic disciplines. The rankings are based on the latest and most robust measures of excellence.
These include the number of times that research papers published by academics are cited by colleagues - highlighting the intellectual clout of institutions. Universities also benefited from having high staff-to-student ratios - one of the most reliable indicators of commitment to teaching.
Lastly, institutions were rewarded for the numbers of students and staff recruited from overseas.
The full table shows that the top 200 universities are to be found in 29 countries, with the US, the UK, Germany and Australia especially dominant.
They have 62, 30, 17 and 14 entries respectively.
Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, welcomed the analysis. He said: "I hope it will stimulate debate in the UK on our performance against world standards and how we can improve it to maintain our competitiveness."
Richard Lambert, the Treasury adviser whose 2003 report on university-industry links recommended the compilation of international university rankings, said: "It is good for the UK to be benchmarked against the best universities in the world. It is government policy to ensure that the UK has world-class universities. So we need a way of telling whether it is worth investing more in the system. It is also in the public interest to see that our higher education system remains world-class."
In the coming months, The Times Higher will publish detailed world university rankings for the main academic subjects.