Measure 1: Resources

How ‘Resources’ were measured and the results the 2017 study produced.

Resources (weight of 20%)

A necessary condition for a well-performing higher education system is that it is adequately resourced, whether by government or the private sector. One measure is expenditure by tertiary institutions as a share of GDP. But for low-income countries, especially those with a large student-age population, a high share of GDP may not translate into high expenditure per student, so we also include the latter. In the absence of quality of teaching measures that are comparable across all our 50 countries, the measure of resources per student in part serves as a proxy. In order to measure the contribution of tertiary education to a nation’s research effort we include measures of expenditure on R&D in tertiary institutions.

In summary, our five measures of resources and their weights are:

  • R1: (5%) Government expenditure on tertiary education institutions as a percentage of GDP, 2013. 
  • R2: (5%) Total expenditure on tertiary education institutions as a percentage of GDP, 2013. 
  • R3: (5%) Annual expenditure per student (full-time equivalent) by tertiary education institutions in USD purchasing power parity, 2013.
  • R4: (2.5%) Expenditure in tertiary education institutions for research and development as a percentage of GDP, 2014. 
  • R5: (2.5%) Expenditure in tertiary education institutions for research and development per head of population at USD purchasing power parity, 2014.

The median level of government expenditure on higher education as a share of GDP is 1.02 per cent, a fall from 1.19 per cent in last year’s rankings. This decline in relative government expenditure has been offset by an increase in private expenditure: the median value of total expenditure has remained constant at 1.47 per cent of GDP. Research expenditure by institutions has also remained constant at 0.35 per cent of GDP.


The highest ranked countries for resources in the 2017 rankings are Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland and the USA, in that order. Compared with the 2016 rankings the largest improvers are Ukraine, Turkey and Chile. Ukraine has improved eight places to 18th owing to the availability of more reliable data for government expenditure. Turkey has risen by seven places to 22nd, owing to an increase in both public and private expenditure. Chile has risen five places to 28th with public expenditure rising from 0.59 per cent of GDP to 0.97 per cent, albeit offset by a fall in private expenditure.


Countries with greatest falls in rank are Argentina, Iran, the Czech Republic and New Zealand. Argentina has fallen eight places to 44th following relative reductions in both government and private expenditure. Iran and the Czech Republic have fallen as a result of declines in government expenditure: Iran six places to 47th; the Czech Republic five places to 27th. In the case of New Zealand, the reduction in government funding as a share of GDP causes the ranking to fall five places to 23rd, back to the level in the 2015 rankings.


Government expenditure on higher education as a share of GDP is highest in Saudi Arabia (2.4%), Finland and Ukraine (1.8%), and Austria and Denmark (1.7%). Total expenditure on higher education as a percentage of GDP is highest in the USA, Canada and Saudi Arabia, Chile and Malaysia, Ukraine and Korea, in that order. Resources per student, which includes research expenditure, are highest in Singapore, the United States, Hong Kong SAR, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland continue to rank highest for research expenditure in tertiary institutions. Research expenditure as a share of GDP in Malaysia has nearly doubled over the past two years and the country’s ranking on this component has risen to 11th.