The academic jobs market is booming, with staff set to reap the rewards of sustained recruitment ahead of the 2008 research assessment exercise, according to senior figures in the sector.
Academics say that the RAE is continuing to drive a high level of recruitment, well beyond the anticipated initial flurry of activity as universities sought research stars. There is now a buoyant second stage in which newer researchers, seen as "rising stars", are in particular demand.
And recruiters predict that a third and particularly fierce final recruitment phase will kick off next year as institutions seek to poach top researchers in the 12 months before the RAE submissions deadline.
A change in the rules for the 2008 exercise means that academics poached within a year of the deadline take all their publications with them, which could then count towards their new department's RAE score. In the 2001 exercise, they had to split their publications 50-50 between their old and new employers.
Some in the sector are predicting that this will be good news for academics, who stand to benefit from attempts to lure them away from their current posts with attractive pay packages and their existing employers'
generous counteroffers to hold on to them.
Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, said: "Most research-led universities have plans to maximise the proportion of staff in 5 and 5* departments. Some others are trying to increase the research impact of departments that were rated 4 in the last round."
Lawrence Freedman, vice-principal of King's College London, said: "There has definitely been a boom. We recruited about 60 new academics to start in 2005 and this was part of a careful programme. There is a second phase here."
Fiona Martland, executive secretary of the Engineering Professors' Council, said: "It's about to hot up. Universities have new staff now and by next year there will be a transfer market. Whole departments and sections will move. People are starting to look and talk even though it is a good year or so off."
Younger and up-and-coming researchers are in great demand, both for their potential to develop into leading researchers in their own right and to complete research teams often headed by senior staff recruited by universities in the first round.
Alasdair Smith, vice-chancellor of Sussex University, said: "There are people who are beyond new entry but not yet at professor level who are recognised as strong research performers. We and others have deliberately built up research strength at a more junior level."
Chris Gosling, human resources director at Imperial College London, said:
"We are actively pursuing really good people. Established 'stellar'
academics and rising stars are equally in our sights."
Andrew Wathey, vice-principal of Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "Current recruitment is building on the success of a drive two years ago to improve research capacity overall, which included a number of established and rising research stars."
Particular growth areas include the social sciences and business studies.
But Arthur Francis, chair of the Association of Business Schools, said: "It will be next year and the year after before you see the scramble for the big names."