Kiwi universities' sustained slide down world rankings has education leaders worried that talented academics will abandon New Zealand for more options overseas.
An international table of the world's top universities, released yesterday by QS World University Rankings, shows Kiwi universities are continuing to lose ground to international counterparts.
Education experts say more could be done to help Kiwi institutes keep up, but the Government has been boasting about the sector's success. It has cited incentives such as publishing educational performance and linking funding to outcomes as factors sparking progress.
The country's top six institutes, excluding Auckland University, have all dropped down the ranks or remained at the same spot in the global scaling system.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology took first place ahead of Britain's Cambridge University and Imperial College London, which were second equal.
The top-ranked New Zealand university was Auckland University at 92, equal with Britain's Durham University.
Otago University, second in New Zealand, dropped from 155th place to 159, and Canterbury University, third, dropped from 238 to 242. Victoria, Massey and Waikato universities either slipped or stood still.
The rankings compare the world's top 800 institutes, taking into account academic and employer reputation, staff-to-student ratios, citations per staff member and proportion of international students and staff.
Universities New Zealand acting chair Professor Harlene Hayne said long-term trends showed Kiwi universities tracking downwards.
"Without more support from government, this country's universities run the risk of hitting a tipping point where the best academics choose to work elsewhere and the best students choose to study elsewhere [and] once you hit that tipping point, international experience shows there's no easy way back.
"Rankings are a good indicator of the quality of university education available to young New Zealanders; rankings underpin the export education income for New Zealand that generates jobs and helps our economy." Massey University has fallen in the rankings almost every year since 2007, dropping from 343 to 346 this year.
Spokesman James Gardiner said results didn't reflect a drop in performance or quality and rankings see-sawed year to year.
"Massey does exceptionally well in international rankings, as do all New Zealand universities - a top-500 place puts an institution in the top 3 per cent of universities worldwide," he said.
"Hundreds of universities are being opened every year and developing countries are investing heavily in education, so it becomes inevitable that while New Zealand's investment in the sector remains static, the extra investment by other countries will push their institutions further up the rankings."
- Manawatu Standard