This paper analyses the relationship between a university’s expenditure per student and its position in international university rankings. We take into account other factors that are expected to play a role, such as university mission, size, and productive inefficiency. We formalise these concepts in our theoretical model of rankings and universities, and estimate this model with data on universities classified in the top 200 by the Times Higher Education Supplement ranking of 2007. We find that the elasticity of a university’s ranking score for the expenditure per student is equal to 8.9%, and that there are no clear signs of inefficiency in production among these universities. University mission and size are also significant predictors of ranking score. These results are important in view of the relevance attributed to rankings by government officials, university directors and students.