WELLINGTON, Sept 15 - Seven of New Zealand's top eight universities markedly improved in the 12th annual edition of the QS rankings - with Otago University the only blip - as weightings for citations in medicine and life sciences were reduced.

The rankings are also based on universities' academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty to student ratio, proportion of international staff and international students.

Auckland retains its top billing in New Zealand, coming in at 82nd on the global rankings, before Otago, 173, and Canterbury University at 211.

All New Zealand universities remain among the top 3 per cent in the world, says their peak body Universities New Zealand.

And UNZ executive director Chris Whelan says the change to how citations are measured is not the full story for the seven institutions boosting their rankings by between 10 and 61 places.

"New Zealand's universities have also lifted their collective performance across other areas measured by QS including academic reputation (the esteem in which they are held by the international academic community)," he said.

The nation's universities were also strong in attracting international students with six placing in the world's top 100 international faculties.

"The success of New Zealand's institutions in attracting international staff and students can be seen as a product of both the academic reputation of these institutions, and the appealing lifestyle and culture New Zealand offers," the QS report said.

While most universities bettered themselves, the QS report raises concerns about graduates' prospects in getting a job.

There was a uniform decrease in the perceived reputation of New Zealand's universities in the eyes of employers with only Auckland (61st) in the top 200 for this criterion.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) retained top spot as the world's best university, followed by fellow American institution Harvard and England's Cambridge University. 

New Zealand's top universities:

- 82 - Auckland University, up from 92 in 2014

- 173 - Otago University, down from 159

- 211 - Canterbury University, up from 242

- 229 - Victoria University, up from 275

- 337 - Massey University, up from 346

- 338 - Waikato University, up from 401-410

- 373 - Lincoln University, up from 411-420

- 481-490 - Auckland University of Technology, up from 501-550 

Source: QS World University Rankings 2015/16