Academics could be forced to complete timesheets so that universities can better account for public funds, a meeting of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals will hear today.
From September next year, the government is likely to require all publicly funded universities and colleges to cost teaching, research and other activities and account for staff time.
Proposed methods include time sheets or retrospective estimates of how much time staff spent on an activity. Either technique would be backed up by sampling.
"There are a variety of ways of accounting for staff time," said David Westbury of the University of Birmingham, who chairs the joint costing and pricing steering group set up by the CVCP, the Standing Conference of Principals and funding councils. "No one wants to go down the route of timesheets - it would be inappropriate. This is important and it needs to be handled sensitively.
"The review has the objective of increasing the confidence of sponsors, especially government, and underpinning the argument of the underfunding of research."
Professor Westbury's report, which describes costing methods that could be applied to all activities at all universities, was delivered to government this week.
Robin Jackson, policy advisor at the CVCP, said: "We are looking for proposals that are workable and which will deliver what is needed without imposing intolerable burdens on universities or making unrealistic expectations."
A spokeswoman for the Association of University Teachers said: "There will be resistance. To comply is, in itself, time-consuming. It steals from the time spent on teaching and research. To appear to be challenging universities in this way sticks in the throat."
The work sits alongside the transparency review, part of the comprehensive spending review. The review is designed to examine dual support of research, in which the Department for Education and Employment pays for overheads via the funding councils and the Department of Trade and Industry pays for projects via the research councils. Costing methods will be unveiled today. Pilot schemes are being set up in eight institutions.