The National University of Singapore (NUS) has pipped two Hong Kong rivals to finish No. 1 for the first time in a ranking of Asian universities.
"NUS completes its remarkable ascent to the top of the table, having placed 10th when the rankings were first compiled in 2009," said London-based education and career consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which released the results this morning.
It was rated tops in Asia by a survey of over 8,000 graduate employers, and also makes the top five for academic reputation and research citations.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) also moved up in the ranking, rising three places to seventh, its highest-ever position.
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was placed second, while University of Hong Kong and Seoul National University were third and fourth.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology fell from first to fifth, the first time a Hong Kong institution has failed to top the table since 2009.
In sixth place was The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Mr Ben Sowter, QS head of research, said the results confirm Singapore and South Korea as the region's new major players.
Universities from these countries and those from Hong Kong and China have grown to command respect in global rankings in the last decade, he added.
As English-speaking and major global transit hubs, Singapore and Hong Kong enjoy some natural competitive advantages.
"However, NUS taking the top spot this year has also been the product of its undeniable evolution to world-class with cutting edge education and research augmented by pragmatic and consistent leadership, strong institutional branding and exceptional financial management."
NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said the university was honoured: "This is a strong affirmation of our distinctive education and excellent research, and a testament to the high quality work by our faculty, staff and students."
Professor Bertil Andersson, president of NTU, said: "Singapore should be proud to have two universities among Asia's top seven."
Despite its relative youth, NTU has moved up 10 positions in the ranking in the last two years and scored full marks for its reputation among employers, he added.
The QS ranking of the top 300 Asian universities is the latest of several university league tables. Earlier this month, the Times Higher Education magazine released its list of top universities under 50 years old.
Students shopping for universities say they look at such rankings but also weigh other factors.
Ms Mandy Ng, 19, who has to choose between NUS and NTU, said: "I would naturally want to go to the business school that is more highly ranked, because it matters later on when you go into the job market."
But it also depends on course modules as well as options such as overseas opportunities, she said.
Experts have also warned governments against basing higher education policies on rankings.
The Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS), which will release a report next week on higher education in Asia, said yesterday that the race was on to build world-class universities.
But Mr Hendrik van der Pol, UIS director, said directing more funding to top-tier universities means pockets of excellence elsewhere might be overlooked.
"In terms of national development, countries might benefit more by supporting these emerging universities that are excelling in niche areas but may not yet appear in international rankings," he said.
Still, university rankings do matter, said Prof Tan of NUS. "Rankings may have some impact as highly ranked universities are more likely to have deeper partnerships with a wider set of high-quality institutions around the world."
Students get to study under a larger number of top professors, among other things, he said.
Top 10 universities in Asia (2009 to 2014): Quacquarelli Symonds
2014: 1. National University of Singapore 2. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology 3. University of Hong Kong 4. Seoul National University 5. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 6. The Chinese University of Hong Kong 7. Nanyang Technological University 8. Peking University 9. Pohang University of Science and Technology 10. The University of Tokyo
2013: 1. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 2. National University of Singapore 2. University of Hong Kong 4. Seoul National University 5. Peking University 6. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology 7. Pohang University of Science and Technology 7. The Chinese University of Hong Kong9. The University of Tokyo 10. Kyoto University10. Nanyang Technological University
2012:1. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology2. National University of Singapore 3. University of Hong Kong4. Seoul National University5. The Chinese University of Hong Kong6. Peking University7. Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology8. The University of Tokyo9. Pohang University of Science And Technology 10. Kyoto University
2011:1. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology2. University of Hong Kong3. National University of Singapore4. The University of Tokyo5. The Chinese University of Hong Kong6. Seoul National University7. Kyoto University8. Osaka University9. Tokyo Institute of Technology9. Tokyo Institute of Technology
2010: 1. University of Hong Kong2. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology3. National University of Singapore4. The Chinese University of Hong Kong5. The University of Tokyo6. Seoul National University7. Osaka University8. Kyoto University9. Tohoku University10. Nagoya University
2009: 1. University of Hong Kong2. The Chinese University of Hong Kong3. The University of Tokyo4. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology5. Kyoto University6. Osaka University7. Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology8. Seoul National University9. Tokyo Institute of Technology10. National University of Singapore 10. Peking University