Oxbridge up in university rankings
The "golden triangle" of Oxford, Cambridge and London has cemented its position among the "global elite" of universities, but there are signs of a widening gulf with other UK institutions.
New international rankings based on reputation show that Oxbridge rates higher than prestigious US universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford.
But while London and the South East are performing strongly, with the UK's top five entries to the list in these areas, there are concerns that other parts of the country are losing ground.
The latest Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings has 12 UK universities listed this year, up from 10 last year and nine in 2013.
The results show that for the fifth year in a row there is an elite group of six US and UK "super brands", the authors suggested, which are "head and shoulders above the rest".
Harvard took first place again this year, followed by Cambridge which has moved up from fourth, and Oxford, which has risen from fifth to third.
Taking fourth place was MIT, down two on last year, while Stanford fell two places to fifth and University of California, Berkeley remained in sixth.
Other UK universities in the top 100 include Imperial College London, which falls one place to 14th, University College London, which is up eight places to 17th, and the London School of Economics and Political Science which has moved from 24th to 22nd.
Soaring up the rankings are Edinburgh, which has moved from 46th place to 29th, and King's College London, which has gone from 43rd to 31st.
Manchester takes the 50th position, Warwick and Durham are new entrants to the top 100 in the 81-90 band and Bristol and the London Business School appear in the 91-100 band.
Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education Rankings, said: "This has been a good year for the UK, with the South East 'golden triangle' of London, Oxford and Cambridge cementing its position at the heart of higher education's global elite, drawing in talent and investment from across the world."
He added that it is "great news" that England is punching above its weight with a large number of prestigious universities as this will help to ensure that England continues to attract talent and operate as an international hub for science and innovation.
But he added: "It must be a concern for the many English regions that so many of our top institutions are concentrated in London and the South East.
"England's top six institutions (and seven of all 11 English universities in the ranking) are all in the Oxbridge-London 'golden triangle', and these institutions will continue to draw in the leading talent from England and beyond, supply the most desirable graduates into the local workforce and attract the lion's share of business investment. It is a virtuous circle as success breeds future success.
"Leeds and Sheffield universities both dropped out of the top 100 a few years ago, and there is no place for the flagship universities of major cities including Birmingham and Liverpool.
"There is a risk that if resources for universities become even more scarce after the election, whoever wins, the rich of the South East will keep getting richer at the expense of the rest of the country.
"Strong universities are central to thriving local economies, and it is important that the UK does not make the mistake of starving its regions of skills, science and innovation."
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "While rankings cannot provide a complete picture of the whole university sector, and there is an obvious element of subjectivity when it comes to reputation, it is clear that the UK continues to excel in this area. By any international measure, we perform well.
"We have the second-strongest university system in the world after the US. This is something of which we should be rightly proud. We excel at a global level in the quality of our research, in the attractiveness of our courses, and in the quality of our graduates.
"We achieve this against intense international competition, with major competitors such as China investing heavily in their universities. It is a real achievement that the UK remains the second strongest university system in the world, despite spending far less on it than our OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) counterparts - just 1.3% of GDP, against an average of 1.6%.
The US has the most entries in the top 100 with 43 universities, followed by the UK with 12 and Germany with six.