Keele University plans to split the management and funding of its teaching and research, and to make its academics negotiate every year how much time they can spend on each.
The proposals are part of a ten-year programme of radical development that Keele's managers say is a necessary response to government higher education policy.
A consultation document issued to staff last week proposes that all of Keele's research should be clustered into new cross-disciplinary "research institutes", while courses should be reorganised into larger "programme groups", which may span several schools and departments.
The document explains: "The environment in which research flourishes is different from that in which excellent teaching is delivered, though there are some overlaps. Keele may be more advantaged in separating out the organisation of research and teaching across the university."
Cross-subsidy of funding between teaching and research will be kept to a minimum under the proposed new regime.
The document says: "The effect will be that staff time for conducting research and enterprise will be clearly identified and protected, which is essential to maintaining the university's overall research and enterprise profile."
Staff would become members of the research institutes "on criteria to be determined", it says.
Institute members would be given a percentage of time to spend on research, which would vary from year to year, normally reflecting the amount of research income they brought in.
Academic union leaders at Keele warned that this could leave some staff permanently locked out of research activity.
Peter Fletcher, president of the Association of University Teachers at Keele, said: "Some may be trapped in a teaching-only role for the rest of theirI career at Keele."
Vice-chancellor Janet Finch said: "Some people will say every member of staff should be part of an institute, while others will argue that we should invest in our strengths and not try to do everything. I want to see what comes out of the consultation."
Professor Finch said she was "still 100 per cent committed to the intellectual linkage between teaching and research". But the proposed changes were needed to allow Keele to continue to grow, improve its research standing, and respond flexibly to external requirements for greater scrutiny and more selective funding.
The consultation document says the changes will also help position Keele to take advantage of new opportunities, including a proposal to partner the University of Gloucestershire and Harper Adams University College in creating a new federal "University of the Marches" in Shropshire and Herefordshire.
Professor Finch said this proposal was still in its early stages, adding that a vision document and business plan were being drawn up. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is co-funding a feasibility study.