Links between institutional academic performance and academic resources are of relevance for university managers, country officials and the public at large. This study aims to shed light on the issues using reliable data on research performance indicators as well as educational and resource indicators from research universities in Spain, Italy, Australia and Canada. The four countries selected for the study represent different academic traditions and belong to different geopolitical regions, yet they have relatively similar higher education systems in terms of student population, institutional resources and research production. Our study explores differences and similarities among them to better assess the performance of research universities from the four countries in a global context. The indicator set includes research production (number of indexed articles per year) and its quality (citation impact and number of highly cited papers), education production (full-time equivalent FTE student load and degree completions per year) and the resource base (annual ordinary expenditure and FTE number of faculty). We consider the raw indicators as well as a set of composite indicators normalised by measures of scale. Across the profile of universities in our complete sample, institutional size is the prime determinant of research production, with systematic differences in quality related to country, research intensity and resourcing level. Our data show that research universities allocate resources to research and education in country-specific and size-specific ways that are reflected in research performance.