The respected league table of 500 universities, officially known as the Academic Ranking of World Universities and compiled at the Shanghai-Jiaotong university, is released each year.
It ranks universities according to the quality of their teaching faculty and research. The table has been criticized in some countries, including France, for its focus on scientific research rather than humanities and teaching.
In the newly released table, American universities took 17 of the top 20 places. Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took the top three spots.
The non-American positions in the top 20 were taken by British universities Cambridge, Oxford and University College London. France only managed three spots in the top 100.
The top French positions were taken by three Paris-based institutions. The Paris-Sud Orsay University in 40th position was just ahead of the Pierre-et-Marie-Curie University (UPMC) in 41st. The Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS-Ulm) took 69th place.
In total, American universities took 151 of the top 500 places. In Europe, Germany achieved 39 closely followed by the UK with 37. France had a total of 21 universities in the top 500.
Newly-appointed higher education minister Laurent Wauquiez told newspaper Les Echos that the list suggested some "slight progress" for France and that there would be a "strong upward leap" in the future.
He said that a new policy of grouping several universities together would help the country's position in the future.