For the first time ever two British universities have been named as the two best, heading up the prestigious Times Higher Education world university rankings for 2018.

It is the only time in the 14 years that the ranking has been compiled that this has happened with Oxford University taking the top spot for the second year in a row and Cambridge in second place. Both universities are world renowned and are popular with students from all around the globe.

In third place is the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) which had held the number one spot from 2012 to 2016 and was second in 2017. In joint third place is Stanford University in the United States.

In fifth place is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by Harvard University, Princeton University, Imperial College London and the University of Chicago. ETH Zurich and the University of Pennsylvania are in joint tenth place.

The rankings report says that one reason for the movement is that Cambridge’s research income and research quality improved, while Caltech and Stanford were hurt by drops to their PhD to bachelor’s ratios. Caltech also received a much more modest rise in its research income per academic staff member compared with the other three institutions.

The US universities’ institutional income also dropped by 23% and 24% respectively, while Cambridge and Oxford each received a boost in revenue by 11% and 24% respectively.

Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice chancellor, said that she was delighted that Oxford has held its position at the top of the global rankings. ‘To be judged the best university in the world for the second successive year, against a backdrop in which Britain’s role in the world is uncertain and the place of universities in society open to question, will be a great source of pride for everyone at Oxford, and, I hope, for the whole country,’ she said.

‘Success in our field is never an accident, it is achieved by a relentless pursuit of excellence, creative brilliance and a deep commitment to our enduring values,’ she added.

However, there is concern that Brexit may pose to the global position of the UK’s leading universities. Almost a quarter of Cambridge’s research funding from competitive grants comes from the European Union, while the proportion at the University of Oxford is about a fifth.

The latest table suggests that the United States and Australia’s standing in the table in future years could also be threatened. Nearly all of the US top 200 representatives, 59 out of 62, faced drops in their research income per academic staff member and future levels of federal research income under the Trump administration are in doubt. Two fifths of the universities in this elite group have dropped ranks.

Meanwhile, although Australia has maintained a relatively steady performance, its position in future years may suffer if the Government goes ahead with plans to cut funding by 2.5% which would result in an A$2.8 billion loss in income across the sector. Both countries, as well as nations in Europe, face competition from rapidly rising institutions in Asia.

Peking University, for example, has risen two places to joint 27th, which puts it on a par with New York University and the University of Edinburgh, while Tsinghua University has climbed five places to 30th, overtaking the University of Melbourne, LMU Munich and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France. Asia’s top university is the National University of Singapore, up two places to joint 22nd, meaning that it is level with the University of Toronto.

There are some other notable swings in the top 50. The University of California, San Diego climbed 10 spots to 31 and in Europe the Karolinska Institute fell 10 places to joint 38th.