Universities' human resources departments must be more upfront about what is expected of scholars in the period of "discontinuities and heresies" ahead, the Changing Academic Profession conference heard last week.
Mike Boxall, head of PA Consulting Group's higher education services, said traditional academic career paths and expectations of autonomy would be increasingly challenged.
"Universities will survive through their ability to earn income from government rather than being funded," he told the Universities UK conference. "Without doubt there will be more active management of academic work."
Mary Luckiram, director of human resources at St George's, University of London, said "clarity of expectations" on both sides was essential to preserve goodwill.
On this, she admitted, university HR departments still had quite a way to go.
"Be clear if you expect 50 per cent of people's time to be spent on teaching," she said. "There needs to be greater emphasis and openness about performance management."
Ms Luckiram, who is also the M25 Region Chair of Universities Human Resources, said institutions must be honest about how omission from the research excellence framework may affect career prospects.
She said academics needed more say in the renegotiation of their "psychological contract" with institutions to combat their current "sense of disengagement".