FOUR of Scotland's most prestigious universities have dropped places in an international league table.

Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews all lost ground in the latest Times Higher Education rankings of the top 200 universities in the world - while Dundee dropped out altogether.

The only university to buck the downward trend was Aberdeen, which jumped from 185th to 158th.

Scotland now has only four universities in the global top 200, compared to five last year, with Edinburgh in 29th place, Glasgow in 93rd, Aberdeen 158th and St Andrews 165th.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, which represents principals, warned investment was falling behind international competitors.

The sector has raised concerns in recent years that public funding does not support the full cost of running courses - leaving universities having to raise money by recruiting international students or those from the rest of the UK who pay fees.

Times Higher Education also raised concerns over the impact of Brexit with uncertainties over recruitment of the students and academics from across the EU.

Mr Sim said: "Despite our commitment to excellence, we’ve seen an overall fall in rankings for Scottish institutions. This reflects the ferocity of international competition from nations that are investing in higher education to drive economic growth.

"A clear pattern is emerging between the level of resource available to higher education sectors by country and the trajectory of that country within global league tables.

"This year, we’ve seen Japan overtake the UK as the second most-represented nation in the rankings for the first time. We’ve also seen Scotland’s number of universities in the top 200 drop from five to four."

Mr Sim called for sustainable investment to preserve Scotland’s "critical advantage" as a place to study, research and do business.

Richard Lochhead, the Higher Education Minister, praised Scotland's overall performance, but also highlighted uncertainties over Brexit.

He said: "By head of population, Scotland has more universities in the top 200 than any other country except Switzerland underlining the strength and breadth of our higher education institutions.

“It is however worrying that Times Higher Education highlights that, in the face of growing global competition, Brexit poses a risk to the performance of our universities and suggests the UK will struggle to attract the best international talent and build productive research partnerships due to isolationism."

Aberdeen University welcomed the new rankings highlighting its strong recent performance in research.

Marion Campbell, vice-principal for research said: “At our core we are a research-led institution placing world class research, teaching and innovation at the centre of all our activities.

“Our progress into the world’s top 160 reflects the excellent global impact in key areas of economic, environmental and societal importance."

Glasgow University said it was pleased to remain in the top 200 despite a decline from 80th to 93rd.

A spokeswoman said: "The university remains committed to excellence in teaching and research, and to strengthening the international reputation we have established in the higher education sector."

A spokesman for Dundee University said, “While we are disappointed to have dropped out of the world’s top 200, it should be noted that our position among UK universities remains largely unchanged. This suggests that increased international competition is the main driver of these changes."