A research university is a university that expects all its tenured and tenure-track faculty to continuously engage in research, as opposed to merely requiring it as a condition of an initial appointment or tenure. Such universities can be recognized by their strong focus on innovative research and the prestige of their brand names. On the one hand, research universities strive to recruit faculty who are the most brilliant minds in their disciplines in the world, and their students enjoy the opportunity to learn from such experts. On the other hand, new students are often disappointed to realize their undergraduate courses at research universities are overly academic and fail to provide vocational training with immediate "real world" applications; but many employers value degrees from research universities in the expectation that such coursework develops fundamental life skills like critical thinking.
Higher education institutions which are not research universities (or do not aspire to that designation) instead place more emphasis on teaching or other aspects of tertiary education, and their faculties are under less pressure to publish or perish.
The concept of the modern research university first arose in early 19th-century Germany, where Wilhelm von Humboldt championed his vision of Einheit von Lehre und Forschung (the unity of teaching and research), as a means of producing an education that focused on the main areas of knowledge (the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities) rather than on the previous goals of the university education, which was to develop an understanding of truth, beauty, and goodness.
It developed into its most advanced and successful form in the United States, centered on three foundational principles: "integration of teaching and research, academic freedom," and a conception of the nature of research as open-ended and unending. From the late 20th century to the present, U.S. research universities have dominated most international college and university rankings.
Roger L. Geiger, a historian specializing in the history of higher education in the United States, has argued that "the model for the American research university was established by five colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution (Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Columbia); five state universities (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and California); and five private institutions conceived from their inception as research universities (MIT, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Chicago)."