Cambridge and Oxford universities have been named "super-brands" in a new set of world rankings as other UK institutions slipped down the table against competition from Asia.
The two elite institutions were placed third and sixth respectively in the Times Higher Education's (THE) World Reputation Rankings 2012, which measures universities' prestige among academics.
Harvard University in the US was the highest ranked, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in second place, and Stanford University in fourth, after Cambridge.
The University of California, Berkeley, and Oxford complete the top six, which were all named global "super brands" by the publication.The UK has 10 universities in the THE list, second only to the US with 44.
Last year, Britain had 12 representatives in the top 100, but the University of Sheffield and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine both exited the top 100 this year.
Other British heavyweights in the list, including Imperial College, University College London, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, have all sunk down the rankings.
This is due to an increasingly strong showing from Far Eastern universities, whose emphasis on academic excellence at the expense of other factors means they fare better in 'prestige' surveys than in the regular THE Global Rankings, which uses a greater variety of indicators such as industry income and student diversity.
Only the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Manchester bucked the UK trend and went up the ranking.
Tokyo and Kyoto Universities were placed in 8th and 20th places respectively, and China's Tsinghua University rose five places from 35 to 30.
Peking University, at 38 this year, made a similar upward trajectory.
The University of Hong Kong entered the top 40 for the first time, and the National University of Singapore also climbed from 27th to 23rd.
Phil Baty, rankings editor at Times Higher Education magazine, said: "Make no mistake, this data should be uncomfortable news for the UK - our global reputation as the home of outstanding universities has been hit."
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group which represents the UK's top institutions of higher education, said: "The UK's leading universities punch well above their weight, and their global reputation remains very strong."