This article addresses two questions that are part of a broader debate about the relationship between teaching and research: are outstanding university teachers engaged in research and are they disseminating their teaching expertise to other university teachers? We address these questions through an analysis of the research and publications of the 2005 winners of the competitive, national awards for university teaching in Australia. The analysis indicates that outstanding university teachers are active researchers, but are unlikely to publish about their teaching or improving teaching practice in universities. The findings have policy implications for the separation of teaching and research within and between universities, and raise questions about the contribution of teaching awards to the wider improvement of university teaching. As such, the article issues a caution to policy makers and university administrators against making pre‐emptive decisions about the relationship between teaching and research based on questionable assumptions. Copyright © 2007 Society for Research into Higher Education.