Flutters in the academic transfer market could start happening from now on because of a change in rules governing the next research assessment exercise, an expert on the RAE has warned.
Under the change, designed to stop last-minute scrabbling for top researchers to boost RAE ratings, departments will be able to submit work by people who leave up to 12 months before the submission date.
Ian McNay, professor of higher education and management at the University of Greenwich and author of a study of the last RAE, said: "My impression is that there is a lot of forward activity going on and that the momentum will pick up in the next six months."
He described it as "slightly more subtle and sophisticated and more underground" than in previous RAEs. "It is perhaps less aggressive but it is there and it is gaining momentum."
John Rogers, newly appointed RAE manager at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, admitted that this was one of the "most contentious" new changes for the next RAE.
Some universities are already working to recruit people with a view to boosting their future research ratings. The University of East Anglia is planning "a substantial investment" to strengthen the school of chemical sciences.
It will make five appointments in the school, funded partly through money put aside centrally for investment, and partly through restructuring of science administration at the university.
Chemistry at East Anglia was rated 3A in the last RAE, compared with ratings of 5 in biological sciences and 5-star in environmental sciences.
Mr Rogers said responses to HEFCE's recent consultation on the next assessment exercise were still being analysed. Details of the 2001 exercise will be announced after the HEFCE board meets in January.