SINGAPORE'S leading universities have climbed the ranks of yet another prestigious league table.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings released this morning, the National University of Singapore (NUS) was placed 29th, up from 40th last year.

But it was the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) that saw a dramatic leap in the rankings, going up 83 places from 169th last year to 86th this year.

Last month, both universities also improved their positions in the Quacquarelli Symonds rankings. NUS was 25th, compared with 28th last year, while NTU was placed 47th, up from 58th.

Calling it an "absolutely fantastic year for Singapore universities", Mr Phil Baty, editor of THE World University Rankings, said: "NUS is right up there in the top 30 and NTU's improvement is one of the most spectacular."

As with last year, American universities dominated the rankings, taking seven of the top 10 places. The California Institute of Technology took the No. 1 spot, while Harvard was pushed into fourth place by Stanford and Britain's Oxford, in joint second.

The top-ranked Asian institution was the University of Tokyo at No. 27. But looking at the falls of many institutions in the West and the rise of many in the East, Mr Baty said there is a definite power shift from West to East in global higher education.

Universities were compared on 13 performance indicators that covered research, teaching, citations, international outlook and industry income, with the first three of the five categories carrying 30 per cent weighting each.

Teaching was measured partly based on how other academics around the world rated the university and other factors such as staff-to-student ratio, while for research, volume, income and reputation were taken into account. Citations are a measure of research influence.

NTU's score for citations increased year-on-year by 20 points to 54.5, while its research score went up by 19.1 points to 66.9.

A delighted NTU president Bertil Andersson explained why the university was on an upward trajectory, especially in research.

"We started ramping up on research some time ago," he said. "But there is a lag period, about five years, before these things start to be counted. So, for NTU, it is just beginning to pay off."

NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan highlighted the NUS University Town and the Yale-NUS College, which will open next year, adding that the university's high placing reflected its "continual educational innovations".

He said its impressive score of 87.2 for research and 67.2 for citations reflected the high and growing quality of its faculty members and the impact of their research.

"These are held in high regard, resulting in our international reputation for research quality, with our published work cited by scholars around the world," he added.

Professor Andersson, who comes from Sweden, said he tried to ignore NTU's rankings when he took over as provost in 2007.

But in recent years, parents and students attending its Open House have been coming in clutching the ranking tables.

"In Sweden, being placed in the top 200 is cause for celebration," he said. "But not here. Asians tend to be brand-conscious."

But he stressed that NTU will continue to focus on the fundamentals - to provide the best education for students and to carry out high-quality global research. "The rankings are a useful measure of our performance, but they will not shape our strategy."