St Andrews and Dundee universities have been pushed down world university rankings by an Asian surge.
In the Times Higher Education top 200 list, St Andrews has fallen from 85th last year to 108th, and from 176th place Dundee has dropped off the list, although it remains in the ”best of the rest” category.
Aberdeen and Glasgow also saw their positions worsen but Edinburgh moved up four places to 32nd.
Rankings editor Phil Baty said: ”Some Scottish institutions have fallen far. While there are current policies protecting investment in universities there, they are unlikely to be enough to meet the challenge posed by massive spending in the East.
”These disappointing results may resurrect the debate about charging tuition fees in Scotland.”
The list is compiled based on each university’s teaching, research, international outlook, finance from industry and the number of times its academics’ work is cited by other researchers.
Dundee and St Andrews actually scored better this year than last, but their rankings suffered because other universities made bigger improvements.
A spokesman for St Andrews University said: ”We are very pleased to have again improved our performance and overall scores in this ranking, but is very clear the UK sector as a whole has been squeezed by some very tough competition from Asia where there has been massive and continuing investment in higher education.
”This league table has also always traditionally favoured larger institutions and our rankings have tended to be anomalous with our standing in other league tables.
”Earlier this week, for example, the Sunday Times University Guide 2013 ranked St Andrews fifth in the UK and top in Scotland, our highest ever finish in this table.
”We hope these results will, however, help spark debate about how Scotland’s universities, which are such a critical force for the growth of the economy and the country’s ability to perform on a world stage, can remain internationally competitive.”
A Dundee University spokesman said: ”While we are disappointed with the drop in our overall position in the Times Higher Education world university rankings, it is important to look at the context. Dundee actually recorded a slightly higher overall score than last year, according to the metrics used in the table.”
Education secretary Mike Russell insisted that Scottish universities were well known around the world for the quality of education they offer.
He said: ”We will continue to deliver access to university based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, and this year more students will be studying at our world-class universities, unlike universities in England where overall the number of acceptances has fallen.”
During First Minister’s Questions at the Scottish Parliament, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the principal of Glasgow University had warned last year that a funding gap would cause long-term damage to Scottish universities.
Alex Salmond replied: ”I think there is general acknowledgement, including by all university principals in Scotland, that the universities of Scotland are the best funded in these islands by far.” (The Courier)