While there is a great deal of comparative literature on how higher education systems fund themselves, there is virtually no comparative literature on institutional funding and, in particular, internationally comparative literature on institutional expenditures. This makes it difficult to evaluate claims made with respect to the benefits of greater levels of institutional funding. The purpose of this paper is to try to look specifically at the question of changes in real per-student expenditures over time in world-class universities (defined here as those which make the 2017 ARWU top-200).
Using a variety of national and institutional data sources, we were able to obtain data on 166 institutions for which more or less comparable data on students and expenditures are available from 2006 onwards. We used this data to look at four main questions. First, what is the comparative financial position of the top-200 ARWU universities? Second, are world-class universities faring better or worse than they did 10 years ago? Third, are “world-class” universities being treated differently from other institutions in each country? Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, have changes in institutional funding over the past decade made much difference in institutions’ Shanghai rankings or improved institutional research output or impact?
Results for the first three vary significantly across institutions and countries, but with respect to outputs there appears to be little to no correlation between increased funding and increased research output/impact and ranking position, at least in the medium term. We conclude that given this result, how money gets spent may be more important than the actual amount. More focus on institutional management techniques is therefore likely desirable.