The world's most prestigious university rankings have come with a stark warning as "declining" Australian institutions struggle to absorb federal funding cuts.
The Australian National University held onto its spot among the world's top 50 universities in the TIMES higher education results, released on Wednesday night, but fell from 48th to 49th spot.
In total, six of the nine Australian universities which made the top 200 slipped in their rankings, while the University of Melbourne retained its 32nd spot as Australia's top-ranked institution.
At the ANU, which has largely stagnated in rankings, there was a small dip in research, particularly in industry income, but its teaching score and citations improved.
Research at the University of Canberra drove its own steady climb up the ladder. The institution, which this year scored the highest for citations in Australia, broke into the world's top 300 universities by placing in the 251-300 range for 2019.
Editor of the rankings Ellie Bothwell said that, while there had been individual successes, the national picture was cause for concern.
"You can’t sustain world-class universities ... with funding cuts," she said, adding strong investment was needed to attract the best global talent and research collaborations.
"As [cuts] take hold and pressure mounts to cap international student numbers – combined with intensifying competition from Asia – Australia’s universities could well face an uphill struggle in the coming years," Ms Bothwell said.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the stark warning should prompt a major rethink by the federal government, which cut $2.1 billion from universities as part of a two-year funding freeze last Christmas.
“[This warning] is like Moody’s or S&P; warning a government about a downgrade to a national economy," Ms Jackson said.
Both the ANU and the University of Canberra have since spoken of their struggle to bring budgets into line with the millions of dollars lost in the cuts.
International education, Australia's third largest export, was threatened by the funding freeze, Ms Jackson said.
In the ACT, international students brought in a record income of $579 million last year.
Speaking at the World Academic Summit in Singapore on Wednesday, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said the university was looking at "safety nets" such as seed funding and loans to support its researchers to take risks and innovate.
He cautioned universities against becoming "slaves to the rankings" and seperating researchers from teaching to drive output.
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Deep Saini said the university's 2019 ranking reflected how far it had come in its relatively short life, having only gained university status in 1990.
“Our researchers are putting the [university] on the world stage," Professor Saini said.
This year’s Times league table ranked the world's top 1250 universities according to their teaching, research, international outlook, citations and industry income.
Oxford University clung to the top position for the third year in a row, followed by Cambridge and then Stanford.
Phil Baty, the editorial director of the rankings, warned traditional powerhouses such as Australia, Europe and America were also feeling the bite of "creeping isolationism" as China and other emerging nations put universities at the heart of their national economic growth strategies.
"They could well challenge the continued Anglo-American dominance of the rankings in future years," he said.
On Monday, the Good Universities Guide 2019 put the University of Canberra ahead of the pack in the ACT for graduate outcomes, ranking number one for full-time employment and starting salaries.