FIVE Scottish universities are amongst the best in the world, according to a new global ranking.

Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Dundee universities have all been named in a university league table which ranks the top 200 in the world.

Scotland now has more universities in the world’s top 200 per head of population than any other nation.

The top institution in Scotland is Edinburgh, which rose twelve places to 24th in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which focuses on research quality.

Glasgow came second in Scotland after climbing eighteen places to 76th while St Andrews rose twenty five places to secure 86th in the world. Aberdeen rose six places to 172nd and Dundee re-entered the top 200 in 185th position.

The rankings come at a time when Scottish universities fear their international status is under threat because of proposed changes to the way they are run.

Institutions believe new governance legislation which will introduce elected chairs of Court for the first time will impact on their autonomy and ability to make quick strategic decisions.

Angela Constance, the Education Secretary, said the results showed a “very strong performance”, but indicated the government’s intention to press ahead with the controversial changes.

She said: “To see five institutions back in the top 200 and all five substantially improving their placing again demonstrates our higher education institutions are up there with the best.

“Research in our universities helps drive innovation and we are supporting our universities to modernise their governance systems.

"This will enhance their important contribution to Scottish society and the advancement of its people and economy.”

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, welcomed the table, but hinted at the sector’s concerns over government interference.

He said: “Behind Scotland’s strong performance is an autonomous higher education sector delivering record levels of world-leading, impactful research and producing highly-skilled graduates with the best employment prospects in the UK.

“What it means in practice is that universities are always pushing to deliver more and better in every aspect of what they do.

“This benefits everyone, including the growing numbers of businesses innovating with universities, the students and graduates who have the brightest career prospects in the UK, and the increasing number of people from all backgrounds who can access higher education.”

Overall, the UK has 34 institutions in the top 200 with Oxford University in second place, Cambridge University in fourth and Imperial College London in eighth. The top university in the world was the California Institute of Technology.

Phil Baty, the editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said the UK was the “stand-out” performer.

However, he also suggested a major assessment of UK-wide research, which was conducted at the time the rankings were being compiled, had helped the UK’s position.

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “We are securely ranked as one of the leading global universities. Our strong position is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of the entire university community as well as our significant investments in early career researchers with international leadership potential.”

Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, said: “Attaining our best ever placing caps a fantastic year for the university. It is a great tribute to the quality of our staff and students and is yet more evidence that the university is one of the world’s leading research and learning establishments.”