New Zealand's eight universities are punching above their weight, the 50-country Universitats 21 league table shows.
The ranking was based on factors such as universities' income, their research and teaching outputs, their international enrolments, and government policies and regulations.
New Zealand's system was ninth best in the world, after accounting for the size of the economy.
Universitas 21 rankings after adjusting for GDP per capita:
- 1 United Kingdom
- 2 Serbia
- 3 Denmark
- 4 Sweden
- 5 China
- 6 Finland
- 7 South Africa
- 8 Portugal
- 9 Canada
- 9 New Zealand
New Zealand's eight universities were initially ranked 14th, with Australia in 10th and the United States at the top.
But after the results were adjusted for GDP per capita, it rose to ninth equal with Canada, while Australia fell to 14th and Britain moved up to first.
In the unadjusted rankings, New Zealand was ranked 18th for resources, fifth for the policy and regulatory environment, sixth for connectivity with other countries and with business, and 21st for output.
Unadjusted Universitas 21 rankings:
In terms of expenditure as a share of GDP, New Zealand was ranked 21st for government expenditure, ninth for total expenditure and 19th for research expenditure.
Universitas 21 is a network of 26 universities in 16 countries.
Last week another league table of university systems, the QS Higher Education System Strength ranking, put New Zealand in 16th place.