Universities are gearing up for the 2008 research assessment exercise with a bold programme of recruitment, restructuring and redundancies.
A number of institutions are revamping research activities and at least one, Brunel University, has gone as far as conducting a "mini-RAE" to assess what is needed in areas such as staff development and training in the run-up to 2008.
As part of its plans, Brunel intends to advertise 30 new senior posts at the level of chairs and readerships in next week's Times Higher .
These will be in research areas Brunel wants to beef up, such as law and human sciences, engineering and design, and information systems and computers.
Over the past two years, Brunel has invested £14 million in high-profile appointments, 70 per cent in research and 30 per cent in teaching.
Separate from this, the university is seeking 60 redundancies and is consulting the Association of University Teachers. The AUT claims the job losses are targeted at staff who do little research.
Chris Jenks, pro vice-chancellor for research, refused to comment directly on the proposed redundancies. But he said that the university's research strategy was not just about the next RAE.
"I really do not like the idea of a university leapfrogging from one RAE to the next," he said.
The Open University is also recruiting top researchers. It is looking for three chairs at its new Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (Cepsar), alongside ten chair appointments in its other research centres.
Bob Spicer, Cepsar's director, said the centre was set up with an eye on the next RAE, to improve the unit's score and to generate new ideas and research collaborations.
Nottingham Trent University is another institution that is restructuring.
Four associate deans for research and graduate studies have been appointed to help coordinate RAE and contract research.
King's College London has a research management advisory group to see which departments are underperforming in research.
Ian Haines, chair of the Deans of Science group, said: "All universities are trying to find ways of not counting less research-active staff and are concerned about which unit of assessment to put staff into."
Jonathan Whitehead, head of public affairs at the AUT, said: "The search for research excellence is something the AUT strongly supports. But when that search is premature, rushed, short-sighted or just plain misguided, then it is a major cause for concern."
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