Funding chiefs are moving to end an anomaly that could otherwise spell the end of university research into nursing.
All university staff - including those funded by the National Health Service - are eligible for inclusion in the research assessment exercise, which measures the quality of research.
Money is allocated to universities according to the number of research staff multiplied by the RAE score. However, at present, nursing researchers funded by the NHS do not count as university researchers.
This means that a department gaining a top-rated grade 5* in next year's RAE could still bring in no research cash from the funding councils to the university.
The funding councils have already made an exception for researchers who work in clinical laboratory sciences, community-based clinical subjects and hospital-based clinical subjects.
Senga Bond, professor of nursing research at the University of Newcastle, who will chair the nursing panel in the 2001 RAE, said: "It is unfair that medical-funded staff can be used in the volume measure for some areas but not nursing. If the country is trying to enhance nursing research, it militates against that."
John Rogers, RAE manager for the funding councils, said: "We recognise the problem and we are minded to do something to address it. We are considering whether to expand the principle (that all NHS-funded researchers working in universities count for the volume measure) to all units of assessment."
However, if this exception were extended to all 60 units of assessment, it could also affect units such as professions allied to medicine and biological sciences.
The funding councils are awaiting the outcome of the fundamental review of research - expected next month - before making any final decision.