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A Multidimensional Exploration of Concepts


The understanding of research universities attracts different dimensional reasoning, which appear in most studies. Such attention unravels the underlying meaning of concepts, perceptual development and the historical growth, which compounded with the literature review. The latter revisits documents or materials believed to surface the meanings or significant understanding of contextual research question. First, Geiger (2017) defines research universities as universities that show commitment towards research, which is considered as the central part of the entire mission. Such universities are mainly characterized by teaching, pursuit of knowledge as well as academic freedom. Significant characteristics encompass both the societal as well as public interest in the research universities as far as generation of public good is put into consideration. Based on the report released by the Chronicle of Higher Education in the year 2018, a deeper understanding of research universities lies behind the Carnegie Classification model further reflects on the prestige factors assigned to R1 and R2. This is part of the literature review will be looking at while checking on the historical development, evolution of the purpose and mission, motivations and strategies that impact the process of attaining R1 status and policy trade-offs noted in the status shift.


Historical context leading to the development of research universities

Currently, the status of research universities and the growing significance of having more attract background check are heightening. More attention is driven towards the underlying factors, the dynamics, and societal influence behind the research universities. Within the scope of the history of United States, Marginson (2016) shares the journey of Clark Kerr in “The Dream is Over”. Marginson (2016) asserts that even before the realization of research universities, there emerged a period denoted as “An Extraordinary Time” which ran across 1950s and 1960s. Currently, history has it that the United States was climaxed with explosion of ideas, popular culture, political rebellion and identities which intensified in the better half of the 1960s. The outpouring of civil energy marked the great times of rising expectations as well as all-round creativity witnessed through government, research, universities, and ideas at the same time. Altbach and Salmi (2011) further asserted that this was the exact time where the memory of the Second World War was still fresh and yielded ambitions of generating collective solutions. This period also marked the time for civil rights movement as well as recognition of the Lyndon Johnson’s great society.

Marginson (2016) made the unique observation of the rareness in the practice of higher education on a large scale as part of the dynamics that shaped the society after the Second World War. However, the State of California was exclusive by moving in front of the American development and embraced a new fashion of higher education under the influence of Clark Kerr. Kerr was the President of multicampus University of California as from the year 1958 to the year 1967. He became the architect of the popular 1960 Master Plan, which became the backbone of research universities across the entire America and the rest of the world. Under the master plan, Kerr intended to inspire public programs, which would be used for the common good, impact institutions. These would have a lasting value and expand the modern democratic life, which also described his personal values.

Under what came to be known as the California idea, which was introduced by Douglass, Salmi (2011) asserts that the idea took shape during Kerr’s time. Research universities could be seen taking shape under the California Idea, which simply described as set of practices, norms, and structures. Essentially, these would in turn enable the public order, as well as supported by the clear-minded scholarship of the thoughtful higher education. Kerr described significant elements behind the policies, institutional forms, norms, scholarship, and even behaviours as part of the descriptive structures of the California Idea. The latter would further influence the educational structures and policy cultures, which could only be traced in some of the research organizations, which prompted the notions of excellence, equality, public, and open interpretation. According to the findings made by Marginson (2016), the notions progressively influenced the system designs of the higher education.

The birth of 1960 Master Plan confirmed the instincts of Clark Kerr who pioneered its preparation before it became a successful bill. The master plan was seen as an avenue for addressing the growth crisis across California, the worsening unregulated sprawl as well as competition noted between the notable sectors of education. Under the plan, Kerr argued that the university was to take a pivotal role in building consensus. Marginson (2016) noted that the master plan aimed at enabling the education avenues to take advantage of the modern as well as scientifically advanced society, which formed the unclear description of research universities. With the University of California taking the lead, the Master Plan was redirected to embrace major innovations and education policy, which would equally affect the economy. The Master Plan could later be introduced in Higher Education, which made the University of California research intensive, thereby highlighting the public commitment towards universal access of ideas and institutions.

Similar developments are also noted with the achievements of Von Humboldt as established by Östling (2018). The author noted that by 18th century, the university was almost intellectually dormant as well as constrained by class privileges and nepotism. This marked the growing demands for reforms, which would constitute reorganized teaching patterns and addressing the needs of professors. This is also said to have happened during the Wilhelm von Humboldt’s times and his impact in discussing the Prussian educational system. Humboldt is essentially remembered for turning the reforms against university to a possible reform of university marked his toddler steps towards introducing research universities, or modern universities in German. According to Östling (2018), William Von Humboldt shaped modern universities, which are also research universities, through his ideologue of university and the significant concept of Bildung. The latter is regarded as an educational philosophy with a long history across the German language. In the 18th century, the concept could easily be used to denote “shape” or “form”. Significant actions linked to von Humboldt forced the concept of Bildung to be integrated into significant education program with the concept denoting the subjective acquisition of knowledge, which impacts the transformation of an individual. Humboldt transformed this kind of reasoning, supported by a background of Kant’s philosophy on originality, to the university arena.

The transfer implied the importance of research and the nature of teaching which needed to bear the active dialogic creation. In the year 1810, basic ideas could be invoked across the Humboldtian tradition. Alongside the Humboldt idea, science and scholarship started shaping the conception of German university. As indicated by Östling (2018), university can only stand where there is research and where the principle of scholarship and science stands. This also coincides with the idea of academic freedom, which compels the state to stop treating universities as special schools or Gymnasien. While Humboldt seem to have passive contributions towards research universities when compared to Kerr, it could evidently be witnessed that his writings, concepts and even way of reasoning found a place across the Classic German University tradition. It was until the 19th century, after Humboldt’s death, when Humboldt’s ideas found space in modern German universities, which embraced research and innovation as part of Bildung. In as much as Kerr showed great contribution, Humboldt’s idea came earlier thereby indicating chances of the United States adopting some of the concepts and significant models from Von Humboldt noted across German Universities.

Apart from the contributions made by Clark Kerr and William von Humboldt, the historical development of research universities also attracts the attention of Veysey (1981) in his book “The emergence of the American university”. Veysey (1981) argues that the American universities seen today are products of sudden and unplanned period of development, which began at the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. At the time, Veysey (1981) asserts that the university was shaped by a modern style of the academic life, which emerged to eclipse the old. Veysey (1981) divides the historical development of American university into two versions of the story. First, the American university was shaped by the competing academic philosophies, which dominated the better half of the 19th Century. Secondly, the American university was seen as a bureaucratic administration and administrative relationship between students and faculty. However, Veysey (1981) noticed that there was a crisis after the Civil War and the American university was no longer a place for young men to move up the social ladder. The American university was increasingly seen as an archaic institution. At the time, the potential of the European universities and the dynamics within the American life served as a turning point to the American university. The latter was to remodelled based on the structures of the German research university, as well as modified to suit constant negotiation, address vitality and flexibility.

Evolution of the purpose and mission of universities

In the face of research and evolution, there are notable changes in the purposes and missions attached to universities. According to Douglass (2016), evolution should first be observed from the historical purpose and the tripartite mission achievement. Douglass (2016) argues that public flagship university became a critical concept at the centre of the growing demands for research. By the year 1870, most of the states had already established at least one public university as one way of embracing first mass higher education movement or system. At such a point, the only mission was to educate as well as train the virtuous citizens, as well as political and economic leaders. This notion could be noted in the University of Virginia where Thomas Jefferson indicated the significance of a young educated nation. The latter could bestow an aristocracy of talents, which would promote science. In less than two decades, Douglass (2016) noted that the purpose and mission of higher education, in the light of research, changed to a tripartite mission which embraced teaching, research and public service. This came at the time when Flagship University denoted the growth of universities in both numbers and influence.

Most of the American public universities opened doors for most of the citizens thereby attracting different abilities. However, this idea could stop withstand in such nations that embrace communism. In the later years, Flagship Universities would be regarded as evolving institutions that embrace socioeconomic mobility. In this sense, the purpose and mission of universities switched to provide sense for economic and civic leaders, for pushing innovation, for knowledge production as well as societal self-reflection. Douglass (2016) asserted that this marked the modern evolution that resulted in research-intensive universities thereby opening platforms for discovery and research. While the evolution seem unstoppable, many researches have gone ahead predicting new flagship models that favour, not only the American education system but also other parts of the world including developing nations.

Secondly, evolution of purpose and mission of university can be extracted from the philosophies of Newman (1873), Kerr (1963), and Flexner (1994). They offer comparative and contrasting views of the ideal university that can be ascribed to the multiple missions of teaching, service and research. Newman advocated for a broad as well as liberal education where a community of scholars are engaged in intellectual pursuits. Newman held the belief that universities be secular, free of religious interference, to pursue all areas of study. Newman wrote in the preface of his book The Idea of the University (1873) that the university is a place of “teaching universal knowledge (p. xxxvii)”. Flexner (1994) in one of his seminal works from 1930, Universities: American, English, German, noted that lack of “unity of purpose” (p. 179) of universities. Counter to Newman, Flexner asserted the mastery of subject matter is a critical role for institutions of higher education. While Newman discouraged a vocational education or a narrow intended major. Flexner advocated for research and graduate teaching over undergraduate teaching. Newman believed in broadening knowledge for the sake of the greater pursuit of knowledge while Flexner believed that focusing on subject- or discipline-specific knowledge as another path to pursue knowledge. Flexner was influenced by the neo-humanism views of von Humboldt and the research focus of the German state university.

An interesting context is the times in which both Newman and Flexner lived. In Newman’s era, the wealthy elite were the primary recipients of a university education. Newman’s vision of a broad liberal education revealed his likely elitist view of higher education. To Newman, the select few who could attain higher education need not be bound by narrow specialization; rather their education should be vast and diverse. Newman also articulated a secular approach to the pursuit of knowledge. Flexner lived in a time where higher education had organically grown but lacked governance. Structure was an important value to Flexner. One of Flexner’s other seminal works on medical education had lasting impact on how medical institutions are fundamentally shaped and governed today. Additionally, Flexner lived in the early 1900’s during the times of the Great Depression and post-World-War I where problems facing society required narrow focus as opposed to broad application of knowledge. Norman advocated a mission centred on a liberal arts undergraduate education while Flexner advocated a mission with graduate and professional foci supplemented by an undergraduate foundation.

By the time Kerr (1963) published “The Uses of the University”, the American economy was booming in the post-war era and universities were the recipients of generous amounts of federal research funding. Universities, buoyed by G.I. bill of 1944, were also the recipients of plentiful tuition funding for the many soldiers who returned from the war seeking educational opportunities. Additionally, many of the technological advances developed for World War II and thereafter were discoveries at universities. Given the contextual conditions of his time, it is therefore not surprising, Kerr (1963) wrote, “the university’s invisible product, knowledge, may be the most powerful single element in our culture (pp. xi-xiii).” Kerr (1963) reflected on the many communities of the university. Internal communities of the undergraduate, the graduate, the humanist, the social scientist, the scientists, and many more that then engaged with external communities of business leaders, community and governmental officials, alumni and so forth (Wagner, 2007). According to Kerr, universities are not focused on one or “uni” mission but rather many or “multi” missions and thus his vision of the multiversity, as mentioned in the historical development, was born. Kerr (1963) believed that a singular university could perform multiple missions and do those missions successfully.

As noted earlier, doctoral universities of today are often characterized by a tripartite mission of teaching, service and research. Kerr advocated that universities are the centre of the knowledge creation and advancement in the United Sates. Keller (2003) noted that Kerr argued for research universities to be the chief generators of new knowledge as vital to society as it is to the government, the military and religious sects. There is need and demand for knowledge and knowledgeable people to respond to societal needs; the university meets these demands. Furthermore, the universities that adapt will be the great universities.

Newman and Flexner would both argue that Kerr’s vision of a university as a factor for producing and advancing knowledge at the bequest of funding agencies would result in a loss of the intellectual and moral identity that define universities. Newman would argue for the social sciences and humanities to play as important a role as the natural sciences in the advancement of knowledge. Newman would also argue that Kerr’s vision of research comes at the expense of the student experience. Flexner would argue the push and pull of funding agencies in the selection and investment of investment in new knowledge runs counter to spirit of the university. Kerr, in response to both, would say the university has evolved and the university needed to adapt to the current needs of society. Ultimately, Kerr argues for balance. Wagner (2007) noted the balance as the energy and creativity of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom in parallel with a commitment to intellectual sharing and community caring.

Understanding the Carnegie Classification model

In most cases, scholars would feel it easier to use Carnegie Classification even before they can seek the meaning of it. However, it is always important to understand the model first with the central purpose of sharing views, which can comprehend the insights of how to improve it. According to Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (2015) defines Carnegie Classification as a framework meant for classifying universities and colleges across the United States. History has it that Carnegie Classification was created in the year 1970 and was originally regarded as the brainchild of Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. However, the responsibility was later transferred to the Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research in the year 2015. According to Kosar and Scott (2018), the model was originally published in the year 1973 followed by subsequent publishing in the years 1976, 1987, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2010 and most recently 2015. It could be noted that the 2005 report reworked on the model while retaining the significant structure of the six parallel classifications. Furthermore, Kosar and Scott (2018) asserted that classification for the research universities is essentially based on the number of research staff, the research expenditures and the number of doctorates that can be granted.

Notably, the research expenditures would further be divided into two divisions which include technology, engineering, mathematics and science – STEM spending and another one for non-STEM spending. The doctorates would further be split into four divisions including social science, humanities, professional and STEM. Based on these, colleges and universities would fall under the doctorate granting universities, the Master’s colleges and universities, Baccalaureate Colleges, Associate Colleges, the special focus institutions, the tribal colleges and lastly, the ones that cannot be classified. With more attention given to doctorates, Kosar and Scott (2018) alluded to the fact Doctorate granting universities are those institutions which awarded at least 80 scholarly or research doctorates in the year 2013-2014. Doctoral Universities with very high research activity are denoted as R1, while the ones with just high research activity take the R2 status. The R3 institutions are either professional or doctoral universities with the count settling at 161. It is worth noting that more attention is given to the level of research activity in every institution described by a number of factors. On the other hand, Master’s Colleges and Universities are the ones with less than 20 doctorates awarded between the year 2013 and 2014, and with at least 50 Master’s degrees. Institutions with Larger programs are denoted as M1, Medium programs as M2 and smaller programs as M3. However, Master’s programs would be of less use in this case.

The motivation for public doctoral R2 universities to achieve increased research intensity, moving from R2 to R1 status

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In a road to Carnegie R1, Lang and Damore (2019) pointed out the key motivations that inspired the University of Nevada to change status, and what transpired afterwards. The University of Nevada was founded in the year 1957 and is currently ranked among the top research universities by Carnegie Foundation. According to Lang and Damore (2019), attaining the R1 status for the University of Nevada means that it can now engage very high research activity or has the capacity of engaging very high research. Before attaining this status, the researchers took a walk on the drive that propelled the University of Nevada to fight for this top position. It could be found out that the university understood the importance of the accomplishment, the required discipline, as well as the dedication that needed to be showcase by the campus community. Lang and Damore (2019) further noted that the university unleashed what is referred to as the R1 campaign, which attracted external stakeholders such as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and key Donors. Perhaps, the standards for R1 status became the prime push for R1 campaign as President Harter’s reign saw subsequent expansion of both the graduate as well as professional programs. The “Invent the future” came in in the year 2005, which saw Harte attain or improve the academic reputation and the research activities that came with improvement of the status.

Away from the University of Nevada, Applied Analysis (2017) focused on the research capacity and reasons as to why research universities fight for the R1 status. First, Applied Analysis (2017) found out that the advantages that came with an additional faculty motivated most of research universities to attain the R1 status. Additional faculty is the sole way of facilitating the required resources, which would affect the research output. This means that the prime goal should be recruitment of the faculty, which would drive the student-faculty ratio from 22:1 to 18:1. Another motivation revolves around physical improvements, which is a sign of prestige and status. However, prestige has always been regarded as the unintended goal of Carnegie Classification. Notably, physical improvements are accompanied by building programs, which are accompanied with renovations, construction of new facilities and readjusting the use of some of the facilities. Applied Analysis (2017) noted that about 127 universities across the country can afford cleanrooms which are essential for any research. In addition, discovery and engagement are regarded as motivational factors. Discovery comes with high impact research, entrepreneurial activities and innovation. It also attracts writing as well as execution of grants. Engagement is aligned with increased collaboration with other stakeholders and universities, which is advantage to both the university as well as the state. This is aligned to the increased attention the education sector is giving towards STEM.

Internal and external strategies used by public doctoral R2 universities to attain R1 status

While most of the universities would strive to attain the R1 status, the key challenge emanates from the financial angle. Most of these universities become financially crippled and run out of the resources due to increased demands. Somers et al. (2018) suggested that it is time to engage academic capitalism as the sole strategy for R2 universities to achieve the R1 status. Somers et al. (2018) argues that R2 universities need to be financially prepared, hence deploy the most relevant financial strategies. One of the financial strategies include academic capitalism, which is best defined as the significant pursuit of market as well as market like activities with the central purpose of generating external income. In any entrepreneurial university, academic capitalism compels institutions to become more corporate while insisting on generation of income as well as cutting costs. Academic capitalism is equally trending across Latin America, Brazil and other parts of the world while focusing on high level human resources. This strategy attracts the neoliberal ideology linked to President Ronald Reagan who insisted on commercialization and providing a financial enabling ground for the students. This marked significant transformation in higher education while making it a public good while impacting faculty members, students, administrators as well as university advisors and the society.

In addition to academic capitalism, Meguro and Paradis (2019) pointed out the essence of community engagement as one key strategy that can easily propel public research universities from R2 status to R1 status. Community engagement encompasses participatory engagement, community outreach, stakeholder partnerships and public engagement. Meguro and Paradis (2019) noted that from mid-1970s to 1990s, initiatives like Detroit Collaborative Design Centre emerged. Most of the universities embarked on community engagement as part of the mission while showcasing the need of academic research for the purposes of addressing contemporary issues. Therefore, community engagement supports knowledge transfer, sharing of resources and striking collaborative campaigns that enhance the standards of the respective universities.

Institutional and public policy trade-offs involved when public doctoral universities move from R2 to R1 status

Boon and Edler (2015) indicated that any change of status from R2 to R1 should be accompanied with a demand and significant concerns of mission orientation as well as grand challenges. Debates have generated significant attention towards demand-based innovation policy as far as societal challenges are put into consideration. According to Boon and Edler (2015), any innovation policy research works in line with increased demand, a trend that has gained momentum over time. The academic interest in the 21st century goes hand in hand with the significance of the demand-side measures linked to innovation tools. Notably, the Trendchart Survey noted that over 75% of the European Union countries have adopted the demand-side policies, which are accompanied by the public innovation agenda.

Some of the demand-side policy instruments constitute price-based measures like subsidies, grants and training as well as awareness measures. Such instruments largely respond to the market as well as systemic failures noted on the demand side linked to the innovation system. The latter constitutes inefficient user-producer interactions and information asymmetries attached to higher education. More attention is given to strategic intelligence realized with the design, implementation as well as evaluation of the education system. According to Whitty (2006), demand-side policy should equally apply to research universities and impact the change of status from R2 to R1. This implies that the change in status should correspond to the need of addressing an institutional or industrial demand. For instance, donors or financiers form a critical component of the research universities. They equally determine the move of a research university from R2 to R1 status. On the basis of academic capitalism, the research universities need to confirm the need of enhancing the status and the accompanied value.


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The Intellectual Community. Vol. 9(4). Retrieved from:

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