Universities will find it harder to win extra state cash if the link between teaching and research is broken, academics will hear this week.
Roger Brown, the principal of Southampton Institute, will call for practical steps to bolster the relationship between teaching and "disciplined inquiry" in his opening speech to an international conference on research and teaching.
He will warn that the "special character" of higher education is "under challenge" from further concentration of research funding and from government plans to allow teaching-only institutions to call themselves universities.
Dr Brown will argue that "higher education's claim to distinctive, and distinctly better, treatment in terms of resourcing and prestige than other sectors of education" is based on the link between research and teaching.
"For many people - perhaps nearly everybody - engaged in higher education, it is the link between teaching and the various forms of disciplined inquiry that gives higher education its special character. Increasingly, the conditions that facilitate this link are under challenge and, unless we can develop a better understanding of the link, the potential benefits will be lost," he will say.
The conference - "Research and teaching: Closing the divide?" hosted by the Southampton Institute - comes days after the latest monthly meeting of the government's "sounding board" on higher education issues, the Research Forum.
The forum, chaired by Sir Graeme Davies, vice-chancellor of London University, was set up by ministers in November to give "technical advice" about the future of research. It is expected to report in summer.
Sir Graeme said: "We see the Southampton meeting as being seminal because it brings together a number of key players and because of its role in formulating advice to the sector, which is quite substantive."
The idea of creating teaching-only institutions, as well as the further concentration of research that has already occurred, was proposed by ministers early last year. It has been criticised by university vice-chancellors and the unions.
The Times Higher revealed earlier this year that four universities - Imperial College London, Cambridge, Oxford and University College London - accounted for 25 per cent of all the research income in the UK in 2001-02.
Sir Richard Sykes, the rector of Imperial, told a conference a year ago that he did not believe the highest quality of teaching could "be delivered by those divorced from active engagement in research".