In the latest global rankings table, Oxford University of UK has slipped from fourth place to fifth and has been beaten for the first time ever by University College London, says a report in The Mail, London.
Cambridge Uniersity, meanwhile, overtook Yale in the U.S. as it climbed from third to second place, behind only Harvard. The Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to a Cambridge India-born don Venkataraman Ramakrishnan for his work in cellular biology on Wednesday.
Oxford dropped a place largely because it performed less well on research excellence, the report said. Uniersity College, London's research papers were mentioned by other scholars worldwide more times than Oxford's were.
The 800-year-old Oxford University is just clinging on to fifth place, in a tie with a second London-based university, Imperial College.
Overall UK universities strengthened their position in a top 100 of higher education excellence produced by the Times Higher Education magazine in conjunction with the careers and education group QS.
Britain claimed 18 places compared to 17 last year as the U.S. lost ground to Europe. The rankings emerged two days after Oxford's departing vice-chancellor, Dr John Hood, said the university needed well over £1billion to make its facilities 'world class'.
Oxford university insisted on Wednesday its position in the rankings was 'surprising' since it had performed well in other assessment categories.
The rankings are based on a survey of 9,386 academics worldwide. Their views are combined with soundings from 3,281 employers and measures including staff-to-student ratios. Oxford's placing was its worst since the tables began in 2004. Just two years ago it was in second place.
The university achieved full marks in the opinion survey of academics, reflecting its international reputation among scholars. It also had top marks in the employer survey, where bosses are asked whose graduates they prefer to recruit. But it lost points for the number of times its research was quoted.
Overall it scored 97.8 points, down from 98.9 last year. UCL scored 99, up from 98.1.
Phil Baty, deputy editor of THE, said: 'It is very tight at the top of the rankings, with the top ten all scoring between 95.9 and 100 points, so relatively small differences can change the pecking order.'
Ben Sowter, head of research at QS, said: 'The rise of University College London and Imperial College shows that concerted research efforts can result in improved performance.'
1.(1) Harvard US
3.(2) Yale, US
4. (7) University College, London
5= (4) Oxford, Above
5= (6) Imperial College, London
7. (8) University of Chicago
8. (12) Princeton, US
9. (12) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
10.(5) California Institute of Technology
(last year's rankings given in brackets)