Top Chinese universities generate more research income per academic staff member than Russell Group institutions when the figure is adjusted for purchasing power.
That is among the findings revealed by a comparison of elite groups of universities using a new Thomson Reuters application that draws on data collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
The Institutional Profiles application enables the 500 universities from 47 countries profiled for last year's rankings to compare themselves using more than 30 metrics, including citation impact, reputation, staff numbers, degrees awarded and weighted categories such as income per academic staff.
A comparison of combined scores for the Russell Group, China's C9 League, Australia's Group of Eight and the Association of American Universities (AAU) shows that the highest research income per academic, adjusted for the cost of living in each country, is enjoyed by the 62 top North American research institutions that make up the AAU.
The Group of Eight is second, while the C9 League has a slightly higher score than the Russell Group.
However, the C9 League has by far the lowest overall institutional income per academic; the AAU has by far the highest.
Simon Pratt, project manager for institutional research at Thomson Reuters, said the figures reflected the finding that the proportion of institutional income from research was significantly higher for C9 universities than for other mission groups.
This reflected China's heavy investment in research, he added.
China's performance in citation impact is a different story. The average score for C9 institutions is 20, far below the 86 recorded by institutions of the AAU. But Mr Pratt said he was impressed that Chinese research quality overall had remained at about the world average over the past decade, at the same time as the country's output had seen a "phenomenal" rise.
The C9 League also recorded the highest number of doctoral degrees awarded per academic, despite having the lowest proportion of research staff and publishing by far the lowest number of research papers per academic. The most productive researchers are in Group of Eight universities.
Mr Pratt said the relatively low proportion of research staff at C9 universities reflected their "traditional" employment policies, which he contrasted with Western universities' increasing tendency to hire temporary research-only staff in order to compete in the "cut-throat" world of research.
AAU institutions have the highest reputations in teaching and research, but the standing of C9 League institutions almost equals that of the Group of Eight in both categories.
The Institutional Profiles application allows universities to look at their reputations in different global regions, which help in student recruitment, Mr Pratt said. There will be annual updates as new rankings data are collected.
But Mr Pratt denied that the application was aimed primarily at helping universities to improve their positions in the rankings. He said it had been designed in response to the desire of university administrators to compare themselves in detailed and meaningful ways with their international peers in order to identify weaknesses and "opportunities for growth" - as well as pick out potential collaborators.
"Rankings, as good as they are, will always be a single number," he said. "Profiling is a better way to understand the different competencies of universities."