Jockeying by universities has forced the Government to consider a last-minute change to its high-stakes assessment of tertiary institutions' research quality later this year.
The Government says institutions' approaches to excluding their weakest researchers from the Performance Based Research Fund are so different it could undermine the credibility of the results.
The Tertiary Education Union says universities are trying to hide staff with poor research records from the quality assessment.
It says that will not help them get more money from the fund, but it will improve their research score, which is valuable for marketing.
The Tertiary Education Commission says it could address the problem by excluding all the worst-performing researchers from its calculations.
That would ensure institutions gain no advantage by ruling out more of their poorly performing researchers than other institutions do.
Some universities say there is no need for change and the public should have as much information as possible about their research performance.
They say the number of staff included in the research assessment will be determined in the final audit.
Consultation on the proposal closes on 30 April.