The universities of Sussex and Loughborough appear at the top of global rankings comparing universities by individual subjects.
Sussex is rated the world’s best for development studies and Loughborough for sport.
But the most top places are taken by two US universities – Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Among UK universities, Oxford is rated top in the most subjects – English, geography, anatomy and archaeology.
The annual QS World University Rankings by Subject compare institutions across 46 subjects.
They show the strengths of in-depth specialisms, rather than basing comparisons on an overall university ranking.
Harvard is top of 15 of these subjects, including history, medicine and biology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accounts for another 12, including maths, chemistry and physics.
There are a number of UK universities claiming first places, in rankings based on 43 million research papers and 305,000 responses to an academic survey.
Loughborough, which has produced a number of elite athletes, is rated as best in sports-related subjects, while Sussex is this year identified as the best for development studies, replacing Harvard.
The Royal College of Art is top for art and design and the Institute of Education, part of University College London, is in first place for education.
The University of Cambridge is rated as the most consistent – with more subjects in the top 10 than any other institution, followed by the University of California, Berkeley.
A quarter of all top 10 rankings are taken by UK universities – with the US and UK having the biggest share of the highest places.
Among continental European universities, ETH Zurich was top in earth and marine sciences, while Hong Kong University was top at dentistry.
Ben Sowter, head of research for the ranking firm, says that the UK does particularly well in these rankings which “drill down” to subject level.
He said comparisons by subject were becoming more important for students considering courses.
“Subject rankings are becoming more and more influential,” he said.