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Students at the University of Toronto campus.Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The University of Toronto is the lone Canadian school to crack the top 20 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which many consider higher education's most influential global rating system.

Eight other Canadian schools in the top 200, and though the U of T fell from 17th to 19th several others improved their position – good enough for the fifth-best performance of any country in the annual rankings dominated once again by the U.S. and U.K.

Times Higher Education (THE) overhauled its methodology last year, and has since added subtle refinements to put the arts, humanities and social sciences on a more equal footing with science disciplines. Rankings remain controversial, but are watched closely by a competitive postsecondary education sector.

Two other flagship Canadian schools made noteworthy gains, with the University of British Columbia jumping to 22nd place from 30th, and McGill University rising to 28th from 35th.

"Like many countries, Canada's universities have been hit with funding problems, but this strong showing has been helped by some methodological improvements this year, and gives hope for the future," said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings. "In particular, Canada looks well poised to compete for a greater share of the ever-growing international student market."

The THE rankings consider 13 indicators such as research, teaching, international activity and reputation using data supplied by partner Thomson Reuters, then scale the results to account for the size of schools.

McMaster University (65), the University of Alberta (100) and the University of Montreal (104) all improved their standing, while the University of Victoria slipped from 130th to 177th after entering the top 200 for the first time last year.

Queen's University, which had refused to submit data in past years, chose to participate and placed 173rd. The University of Ottawa was Canada's other new entrant, at 185th. Dalhousie University and Simon Fraser University both fell out of the top 200 after coming in 193rd and 199th respectively last year.

For the first time in eight years, Harvard University was unseated from the list's top spot by the California Institute of Technology. Harvard is tied for second place with another California mainstay, Stanford University.

Last month, McGill University was the highest-ranked Canadian school in the QS World University Rankings, another widely circulated effort at classification, landing in 17th place.