More RAE kickabout

August 14, 1998

Comparisons are frequently made between the football transfer market and the movement of top research staff between universities (THES, July 31), but the analogy should not be taken too far.

Football players are bought for their future potential. The goals they have scored for their old club cannot be claimed by their new one. In contrast, the research assessment exercise provides an incentive for a university to "buy in" not just the star researcher but earlier publications that they produced while at another institution because the exercise is largely retrospective.

One possible solution is for staff who have joined since the last RAE to count towards the volume in proportion to the time spent at each institution. Thus, on the current five-year time-scale, if a researcher joined two years before the next RAE, he would count as 0.4 to his new department (the remaining 0.6 counting towards his previous one).

But there is another important difference: football clubs are recompensed for the loss of their stars through the payment of transfer fees. Will we see the advent of transfer fees in academia?

Geoff Kneale Professor of biomolecular science University of Portsmouth

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