Research findings appear from thin air, a preliminary report of the fundamental review of research has found.
More research is being conducted than funded in British universities, according to the study. The discovery backs anecdotal evidence that the dual-support method does not meet the full costs of research.
The interim report, from JM Consulting, is one of at least seven studies that will contribute to the fundamental review of research.
The report forms part of the advice given to the sub-group on the relationship between teaching and research, which was chaired by Howard Newby of the University of Southampton.
The report identifies four possible ways in which institutions could be subsidising research: that academics are making time for research by working longer hours, some of which are effectively unpaid; that universities could be skimping on maintenance work to fund research; that teaching grants might be being used to subsidise research; and that cash from other income sources could be being siphoned off to pay for research.
The consultants are continuing their work to identify the extent to which teaching pays for research. They are looking for indicators of any signs that teaching is not receiving the resources it should by comparing the teaching quality assessment results of research-intensive universities with those of teaching-intensive institutions.
The teaching quality assessment rating and the research assessment exercise rating will be compared between departments in the same university.
A final report is expected by the end of March.
Further evidence is likely to emerge from the transparency review, which will oblige research-intensive universities to count the true cost of their research work. Eight pilot institutions are using the new costing method.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has commissioned other studies that will feed into the fundamental review of research.
Consultants Segal Quince Wicksteed are looking at how institutions set about determining and managing their regional role.
"Universities want to be based in vibrant regions, so they have a stake in creating a vibrant and healthy economy," said Robin Brighton, a director of Segal Quince Wicksteed.
One interim finding is that some universities have a great but unintentional impact on their regional economy, while others use research strategies to support local industry.