The "frenzied" transfer of top academics in the build-up to the research assessment exercise could backfire on universities, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has warned.
Panels will consider the long-term research culture of the whole department, rather than concentrate on the calibre of high-profile individuals, according to chief executive Graeme Davies.
In another move designed to dampen transfer activity, HEFCE added that the assessment exercise will include allowances for departments bringing on "rising stars" as opposed to relying on recruiting established researchers. Professor Davies said that institutions competing for shares in a fixed cake had to be aware that "transfer fees" might not reap the intended reward.
"If the model is redistributive, it may be that costs are not recouped," said Professor Davies. "I have always believed movement between institutions is a good thing but my perception is that it may be getting in the way of research."
His remarks reflect alarm among some vice chancellors about the current transfer fever. He told the UK Council for Graduate Education summer conference, that there was "something of a feeding frenzy going on", adding "what most people don't recognise, and it is absolutely basic, is that the funding for research is a redistributive one and not an absolute one. All it does is shift money around and it doesn't involve new money.
"In the last assessment exercise, departments went from a grade three to four or from four to five, and ended up with less money."
His conference document, The Assessment of Research Quality, says that assessment panels will take into account the treatment of staff, and the numbers on permanent and fixed-term contracts.
It adds: "In cases where an institution has recruited significant numbers of staff in the run-up to the census date, panels may wish to form a view as to what this tells them about the department's established standing and research culture."
Sir Colin Campbell, vice chancellor of Nottingham University said: "There is wide concern that the transfer market is getting hysterical."