A scheme that could see the salaries of some scientists topping £100,000 will not help new researchers and is elitist, according to university unions.
This week, Lord Sainsbury invited institutions to bid for a share of a £4 million annual fund that aims to turn the UK's "brain drain" into a "brain gain" by attracting and retaining world-class scientists.
The scheme, announced in the government's white paper on science and innovation last year, will be administered by the Royal Society. Up to 35 awards worth as much as £75,000 per year for five years will be made annually.
Half this amount could be used to improve salaries, the remainder is reserved for research expenses. Applications must come from vice-chancellors and nominees must be fully salaried at a UK university. The fund is made up of £2 million each from the Wolfson Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology.
Selection criteria will take into account the record of the nominee, the record of the institution in that field and the quality of the university's research facilities.
Peter Cottrell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "A select group of premier league researchers will not help attract or promote the next generation of researchers." He contrasted "brain gain" salaries with the £16,775 researcher's starting pay.
Tom Spamer, Unison branch secretary at Leeds Metropolitan University, said that basing the awards on research records and facilities would perpetuate an elite of universities that are already well funded by research grants.