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University of Toronto’s St. George Campus. The added cost of attending university out of town is estimated at $45,000.JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

The University of Toronto has inched back into the world's top 20 universities in the latest global rankings from Times Higher Education, but several other Canadian schools have slipped down the tables.

Canada's top-ranked schools held their ground in this year's World University Rankings, with the U of T moving up one spot to 20th place, and the University of British Columbia and McGill University both losing a single place, coming in 31st and 35th respectively.

But McMaster University, Canada's fourth-ranked school, lost four places and wound up 92nd, while the University of Victoria fell out of the top 200 after placing 196th a year ago.

Overall, this year's rankings continue the trend of East Asian universities rising through the ranks, though "it's quite considerably less marked this year, it's less dramatic," said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings. Last year, the presidents of the U of T and McGill issued a call to action, suggesting Canada's top schools needed to be funded at a level that would keep them competitive or risk falling behind in relative terms. But Mr. Baty said the performance of Canada's top schools this year has "defied the gloom last year that suggested there was a downward trend."

"Perhaps there is a slight sense there is the best and the rest emerging here, so you've got [U of T, UBC and McGill] making the top 40 quite comfortably, but you've got McMaster falling away," he said.

After three years using the same methodology, the Times Higher Education rankings show signs of stabilizing. The California Institute of Technology again came in first overall, and the same schools made the top 10, though their order shuffled slightly. "The top 30 is very, very stable," Mr. Baty said.

But there are still swings in position that can seem puzzling. Last year, l'Université de Montréal surged into the global top-100, rising 20 places to 84th. This year, it fell right back to 106th due to "modest decreases" in scores across several areas, mostly noticeably around reptuation, Mr. Baty said. Yet in the separate QS World University Rankings, released last month using a different methodology based more heavily on reputation, the U de Montréal rose 22 places.

The university's slip in this year's Times Higher Ed tables "doesn't necessarily mean they've gotten worse, it just means that others have improved more rapidly," Mr. Baty said by way of explanation, adding, "Around the 100 mark, it does get pretty tight in terms of data."

The University of Alberta got some welcome news, rising from 121st to 109th in a year when the Alberta government cut the school's funding by 7.1 per cent, setting up a year of deep austerity and further cutbacks to come. But the upward move may prove temporary, as much of the data for this year's rankings was collected before the spring budget cuts, and some financial data can date back as far as 2011. "There's a little bit of a time lag," Mr. Baty said.

Universities in the U.S. continue to dominate the rankings, with 77 in the top 200, followed by the U.K. with 31. No other school had more than 12, and Canada had seven.

Canadian University rankings, 2012-13 to 2013-14

University of Toronto / 21 to 20, +1

University of British Columbia / 30 to 31, –1

McGill University / 34 to 35, –1

McMaster University / 88 to 92, –4

Université de Montréal / 84 to 106, –22

University of Alberta / 121 to 109, +12

University of Ottawa / 171 to 185, –14

University of Calgary / (226-250) to (201-225)

Laval University / (226-250) to (201-225)

University of Victoria / 196 to (201-225)