ETH Zurich, which consistently performs well in international rankings, retained its 19th position overall in the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), released on Tuesday.
“ETH Zurich has come to symbolize excellent education, groundbreaking basic research and applied results that are beneficial for society as a whole,” said the ranking authors online.
Institutions in the UK and US took all the places above it in a list topped by Harvard in the US for the 15th year running.
Stanford, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley, made up the top five.
In 30th place overall, Copenhagen University was the second best in continental Europe.
As well as ETH Zurich, Lausanne's EPFL and the universities of Zurich, Geneva and Basel made the top 100, meaning Switzerland was fourth overall in terms of the number of institutions in the top 100, behind the US (on 48), the UK (9) and Australia (6).
EPFL – the sister institution to ETH Zurich – gained 16 places to rank 76th, a performance a spokeswoman for the Lausanne technology institute told La Tribune de Genève was “magnificent” and “shows our vision for scientific excellence is solid, even if EPFL doesn't chase rankings and doesn't modify its academic strategies to gain places”.
Carried out annually since 2003, the ARWU – known as the Shanghai ranking – claims to be one of the most trustworthy league tables.
However it has been criticized for the methodology it uses, which gives weight to science over teaching. Its six main criteria include the number of Nobel Prize-winning staff – ETH Zurich has had 21 – the number of highly cited researchers, and the number of articles published in the journals Nature and Science.
The ranking assesses around 1,300 institutions annually, publishing what it sees as the top 500. For the first time this year it has also published those ranked 501-800