The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is considering "limited protection" for departments which are unique in Scotland or whose subject is considered vital.
The council has already warned that departments rated 2 in the forthcoming research assessment exercise may no longer win SHEFC funds. The proposal comes in a consultation paper on how SHEFC's funding methods could reflect the priorities determined by the Government's Technology Foresight Programme.
As well as asking academics and industrialists whether there is a case for different funding levels for different subjects with the same quality rating, SHEFC wants to know how it should take account of the humanities and creative arts in any changes to its funding methods, and what their role is in addressing Technology Foresight.
It currently uses a small amount of its recurrent research funding to stimulate new research, and says that while this will continue during 1996/97 to avoid problems of a loss of support, it might thereafter be earmarked for schemes such as Technology Foresight.
John Sizer, chief executive of SHEFC, said: "The funding council invests Pounds 100 million each year to support the research capability in Scottish universities and colleges.
"The responses will help determine how the council's research funding policies can shape the future pattern of research and strengthen partnerships between higher education and research users in both the public and private sectors."
SHEFC is seeking responses by the end of October, and will submit an action plan to Government by the end of the year.