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Higher education has undergone far-reaching changes in most countries in recent years. University systems are in the midst of profound transformation and institutions are under growing competitive pressure to improve their performance. This tendency to introduce market mechanisms in education and extend more professional management systems to universities has translated into the appearance on the scene, unprecedented in some countries, of private universities, many as for-profit organizations. This article aims to assess the impact of private universities' activity on academic research. To this end, it conducts a case study of the Spanish university system, comprising 78 universities, 49 public and 29 private. Most of the latter were founded in the 1990s or later in response to a policy geared to enhancing performance in higher education by heightening competition. The conclusion drawn is that private universities, particularly the for-profit kind, conduct research less intensively than public institutions. Their contribution to this, the public good dimension of the university mission, is consequently still scant, for their focus is on teaching.