Staff at the University of Exeter are alarmed at the tactics the university plans to use to maximise its score in the next research assessment exercise.
Under the proposals, some staff members would be taken off Exeter's payroll while the quality of research is assessed and paid a lump sum in place of a salary.
"This is a despicable attempt to defraud the funding council by cheating on the RAE," said Chris Taylor, acting secretary for the local branch of the Association of University Teachers.
The proposals relate to staff who took early retirement after restructuring and were then offered three-year part-time teaching-only contracts. The contracts are due to run until July 31 2001; under the proposals, they would be terminated by March 31 2001 - the RAE census date.
A spokesman for Exeter said: "At the time these contracts were offered, the RAE was due to take place in 2000 and therefore it would not have been an issue. However, given the proximity of the new census date to the end of these contracts, to include them in the RAE would adversely and unfairly affect the university's RAE return."
Mr Taylor pointed out that had the RAE taken place this year, there would be no question of terminating the contracts.
John Rogers, who manages the RAE on behalf of all the funding councils, said the strategy would have no effect on Exeter's RAE ratings. He said: "We only assess the quality of research by staff presented for assessment. We only fund the institution on the number of staff they return. The percentage of staff entered for assessment isn't a factor in the RAE rating - it has no bearing."
The Exeter spokesman said: "Every university is having to review its arrangements to maximise its RAE return. The university believes its actions to be entirely consistent with the rules of the RAE."
He added that staff who did not want to enter into the arrangement would not be forced to do so.
But Mr Taylor said: "The university management has a history of leaning on people heavily." Staff who accepted the new contracts would be disadvantaged by the break in their employment record, he believes.