Australian universities have performed strongly in the latest international rankings but the government needs to boost higher education funding to sustain the trend, a key monitoring group says.

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The 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University rankings released on Wednesday show Australia is the seventh most represented country out of 70 surveyed, with eight institutions in the top 200 and 22 in the top 400.

The University of Melbourne is the top Australian performer, maintaining the 33rd placing it held last year.

The Australian National University (ANU) was next in line and was the only Australian institution in the top eight to lose ground, falling from 45th to 52nd.

Sydney University came in at 56th, up from 60th last year.

Rankings editor Phil Baty said Australian universities had a very good year, notably scoring higher in the quality of their research work and its pick-up globally.

But he told AAP the future funding of the sector needed to be addressed as universities would struggle to maintain high performance and research outputs “without generous financial support, be it from government or the private sector”.

“World class universities need world class funding, they need the resources to pay the salaries to retain the academic staff, to attract top research staff from around the world”.

Mr Baty said that in 2014 research and development spending in Australia dropped to its lowest level since 1984 – 2.2 per cent of the federal budget.

“Australia will have to raise its game to ensure it can compete with the leading Western powerhouses of the US and the UK and rising stars in Asia that are heavily investing in research.”

Mr Baty said any money the government put into higher education would be paid back through innovation, technological developments and educated graduates who paid their taxes.

Topping the global university rankings overall was the California Institute of Technology followed by Oxford University then Stanford University.

RANKING OF AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITIES IN 2015-16

Last year’s ranking in parentheses

University of Melbourne 33 (33)

Australian National University 52 (45)

University of Sydney 56 (60)

University of Queensland Australia 60 (65)

Monash University 73 (83)

University of New South Wales 82 (109)

University of Western Australia 109 (157)

University of Adelaide 149 (164)

OVERALL

California Institute of Technology (US) 1 (1)

University of Oxford (UK) 2 (3)

Stanford University (US) 3 (4)

University of Cambridge (UK) 4 (5)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) 5 (6)

Harvard University (US) 6 (2)

Princeton University (US) 7 (7)

Imperial College London (UK) 8 (9)

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich 9 (13)

University of Chicago (US) 10 (11)

Source: Times Higher Education

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