Although the university rankings have existed since the fi rst half of the 20th century in several countries, they have gained their international popularity after the emergence of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), also known as the Shanghai Ranking, in 2003. Since the beginning of the 21st century, universities, research centres and for/nonprofi t organizations throughout the world have established international rankings of the best universities applying different methodological approaches: Ranking Web of Universities - Webometrivs, QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Ranking, THE (Times Higher Education) World University Rankings, SCImago Institutions Rankings (SIR), CWTS Leiden Ranking and U-Multirank. In this paper we would like to explore the reasons for the current representation of Croatian universities in the world’s most prestigious university rankings. The basic precondition for understanding the situation is to familiarize oneself with the criteria and methodology used in the rankings and the capabilities of Croatian universities to comply with those criteria. Among seven Croatian universities, only the University of Zagreb is represented in four out of the six world ranking systems. Our assumption was that the reason for the status of the University of Zagreb and for the absence of the other six Croatian universities lies in their (in) ability to meet the methodological criteria of respective ranking systems. For comparison purposes, we have made an analysis of the representation of universities in 10 post-socialist EU countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria) as well as four former Yugoslav countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia). In summary, these countries are represented by 7–37 out of 294 universities in all six world ranking systems. Depending on the number of universities in each ranking system, the share of these universities ranges from 2.4% at ARWU, 3.1% at SIR, 5.1% at Webometrics, 6.8 at CWTS Leiden Ranking, 7.5% at QS, to 11.9 at THE rankings. In addition to the above methodological requirements of each global ranking system, the fundamental reason for the status of Croatian universities may be found in the existing science policy, with emphasis on the criteria for academic promotion and promotion of the quality of universities.