Canada has three of the top 25 universities in the world, according to the 2012 Times Higher Education magazine's reputation rankings.
The survey rates 100 schools based on the opinions of more than 17,000 academics from 137 countries. The British-based publication's rankings are dominated by universities in the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. Harvard was first, scoring 100 points, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University.
The University of Toronto was the top Canadian institution, ranked 16th, which was one spot better than last year. The University of British Columbia and McGill University in Montreal tied for 25th place, with UBC jumping six places.
"UBC's ranking reflects our strong commitment to international research collaboration and producing new knowledge that benefits Canada and the world," university president Stephen Toope said in a news release.
With universities competing for the top students and scholars, rankings such as this one are powerful marketing tools.
"Only 100 universities are listed in our prestigious World Reputation Rankings - that is around 0.5 per cent of the world's higher education institutions," said Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education rankings. "So those that feature in the list are part of an exclusive global elite of exceptionally powerful university brands."
France's relatively poor showing — with only four universities in the top 100 and none in the top 60 — has apparently caused some consternation, Maclean's Paul Wells reports.
"What makes it all interesting to Canadians is that the guy who runs the ranking system attempts to comfort French readers by saying that, after all, four out of 100 is 'better than Canada,'" Wells writes.
Wells calls it a mixed result, good when you consider Canada's relatively small population and the fact it's the only country that elbowed its way into the top group with the U.S., U.K and Japan.
"But in a global market for highly-mobile knowledge workers, universities have a better chance of attracting recruits if they are known, and thought well of," he writes. "A small number of Canadian universities are doing quite well on that score, the others not so much."
The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. notes Asian nations are catching up fast to British and U.S. schools. China's top universities improved their rankings, as did the National University of Singapore. Several British institutions sank in the rankings and there were two fewer U.K. schools on the list this year. There are 44 U.S. universities on the list.
Times Higher Education's Phil Baty said there's a clear risk that, other than Oxford and Cambridge, British universities risk being "relegated from the premier league ... in the eyes of the world, with tangible and sustained damage."