Quality-related Research (QR) funding

QR funding is used to support the research infrastructure necessary for the Northern Ireland universities to conduct research, including permanent academic staff salaries, premises, libraries and central computing costs.

It also contributes to the costs of postgraduate research training. QR also enables the higher education institutions to conduct their own directed research, much of which is supported later by the Research Councils and others (charities, the EU etc.). This is known as the Dual Support System.

QR is paid as part of the block grant to the institutions, which includes funds for learning and teaching and widening participation and, as such, can be distributed by the recipient university according to its own strategic priorities.

Table 1

Total QR funding (£s) in Northern Ireland, 2002/03 to 2013/14, inclusive of Research Degree Programme/Postgraduate Research (RDP/PGR) Supervision Fund for postgraduate research training and Higher Education EU Support Fund

Queens University and University of Ulster

of Ulster
of Ulster
2013/14 28,966,214 3,286,861 15,969,058 418,072
2012/13 29,398,947 3,276,096 16,107,873 428,837
2011/12 30,139,233 3,328,060 16,593,521 610,319
2010/11 30,636,920 3,403,153 17,075,217 784,556
2009/10 30,659,644 3,378,531 17,012,029 814,468
2008/09 29,521,070 3,084,946 16,231,539 647,351
2007/08 27,958,977 2,832,486 15,451,060 483,482
2006/07 26,243,021 2,333,212 14,676,870 404,217
Queens University Belfast University of Ulster
2005/06 25,765,128 14,059,582
2004/05 23,502,099 13,270,768
2003/04 24,875,996 13,781,140
2002/03 15,985,002 10,668,073

Stranmillis University College

Mainstream QR
2013/14 49,678 0
2012/13 49,678 0
2011/12 59,746 3,039
2010/11 60,007 5,289
2009/10 60,218 0

Total Northern Ireland QR Funding

Academic Year* Total Northern Ireland QR Funding
2013/14 48,689,883
2012/13 49,261,431
2011/12 50,733,918
2010/11 51,965,142
2009/10 51,924,890
2008/09 49,484,906
2007/08 46,726,005
2006/07 43,657,320
2005/06 39,824,710
2004/2005 36,772,867
2003/2004 38,657,136
2002/2003 26,653,075

*Academic Years run from August to July

There are two main variables affecting the allocation of QR funds to each institution: quality and the number of full-time equivalent research active staff as assessed by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the most recent of which took place in 2008. The outcome of RAE 2008 can be viewed at the following link Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) external link. Tables containing details of QR funding and research volume components for 2011/12 and 2012/13, broken down by subject, for each of the institutions are available to download below. Stranmillis University College submitted to the RAE for the first time in 2008.


The quality of research was assessed in the RAE and RAE 2008 results were presented as quality profiles. The introduction of the quality profile eliminated the averaging effect of single point ratings used in previous RAE exercises and enabled evaluation panels to exercise a finer degree of judgment, especially at grade boundaries. These profiles were awarded a rating, on a scale of 1* (one star) to 4* (four star). The table below shows how these ratings relate to funding multipliers. A rating of 1* attracts no funding, while a rating of 4* attracts 7 times as much funding as a rating of 2* for the same volume of research activity.

2008 RAE rating Funding weights in QR model
1* 0
2* 1.0
3* 3.0
4* 7.0


The volume of research in each unit of assessment was measured using 3 separate components. These volume components applied for departments rated 2* or above in the RAE and were weighted as follows:

  • research-active staff – 1 x no. of Full-time equivalent (FTE) research-active staff funded from general funds (including NHS funding for nursing and other subjects allied to medicine) and selected for assessment in the RAE. This was by far the most important measure of volume;
  • research assistants – 0.067 x no. of FTE research assistants;
  • research fellows – 0.06 x no. of FTE research fellows.

Cost Weighting

Although quality and volume were the two main variables, each subject is also assigned with one of three cost weights, which had been calculated to reflect the relative costs of research in those subjects. These were multiplied by the volume of research in each subject to work out the total funding for that subject.

The 3 cost weights are:

A Clinical medicine and laboratory based subjects 1.6
B Subjects with a technical/experimental premium 1.3
C Other Subjects 1.0

Charities Support Element

In 2006, the Department introduced the Charities Support element within the block grant to supplement university research income received from charities. This initiative is an integral part of the wider UK Government policy to ensure long term sustainability of the research base through Full Economic Costing and is in keeping with the commitment made by Government, in its Science & Innovation Framework 2004-14, to close the gap between the full cost of charity-sponsored research and the funds currently available from universities and charities. It also mirrors the charities initiative operated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and brings the NI universities broadly into line with their English counterparts.

Higher Education EU Support Fund

In 2011/12, a fund was established to encourage increased participation by the universities in the European Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. The £80,000 funding (held back from the QR pot) was allocated to the two universities in proportion to the QR funding they receive.

The £80,000 has been returned to the QR pot and, in its place, the Department, with the support of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), has made available to the universities an enhanced fund of up to £600k per annum from additional resources, initially for academic years 2012/13 to 2014/15. The fund, to be known as the Higher Education EU Support Fund, has been introduced in light of the critical role played by the Northern Ireland universities in the drawdown of EU research funding and the reliance that will be placed upon them by the Northern Ireland Executive to make a significant contribution to the achievement, under Horizon 2020, of a doubling, at least, of the funding secured under FP7.

Table 2

Higher Education EU Support Fund (£s)

Academic Year Queen`s University Belfast University of Ulster Total
2013/14 378,991 192,557 571,548
2012/13 379,508 192,040 571,548
2011/12 50,460 29,540 80,000

Sustainability Research Fund

In 2009/10, 5 % (approximately £2 million) was held back from the QR pot. It was subsequently decided that this funding should be directed towards areas that encompass the theme of sustainability, particularly research that relates to alternative/renewable energy sources or green technology. This is in line with Research Council UK priorities and a key theme identified within MATRIX external link. Proposals were submitted by the universities and the following projects and funding allocations – based on the current QR split (table 2) - were approved.

Table 3

Sustainability Research Funding (£s) for 2009/10 and 2010/11

Academic Year Queen`s University Belfast
- Clean Energies
University of Ulster - Sustainability
Measurement and System Evaluation

Total Sustainability

Research Funding

2010/11 1,268,027 739,082 2,007,109
2009/10 1,266,395 740,714 2,007,109

The Department committed funding for two years and from Academic Year 2011/12, this funding stream has been returned to the QR pot.

Research Capability Fund

In 2003/04 the Department allocated funds for emerging areas, through the Research Capability Fund. Units of assessment rated at 3b in RAE 2001 which were identified by the recipient university as being of strategic importance and where there was no corresponding unit at the other Northern Ireland University at a higher rating were eligible. Two areas were identified: Town and Country Planning (RAE unit of assessment 34) at Queen’s University Belfast and Environmental Sciences (RAE unit of assessment 21) at the University of Ulster. Table 3 shows the allocations to date. In light of the move to quality profiles, this research capability funding was merged with the mainstream QR grant in 2009/10.

Table 4

Research Capability Funding (£s) in Northern Ireland 2003/04 to 2009/10



Queen's University Town & Country Planning

University of Ulster -Environmental Sciences

Total Research

Capability Funding

2009/10 The RCF was returned to the mainstream QR grant in 2009/10
2008/09 116,532 438,240 554,772
2007/08 113,040 425,106 538,146
2006/07 104,486 392,940 497,426
2005/06 99,980 375,994 475,974
2004/05 80,941 304,392 385,333
2003/04 81,728 307,355 389,083

For further information, please contact HE Research Policy Branch external link (tel: 02890 257 637).

Additional PhDs

Under the last Programme for Government, the Department committed to “increase by 300 the number of PhD research students at local universities by 2010”. These additional PhDs places were focused on areas of economic relevance as agreed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment which is in turn informed by “MATRIX”, the Northern Ireland Science and Industry Panel. The economic priority areas were: Agri-food, life and health sciences (including behavioural), advanced materials (including clean technologies), engineering, information and communication technologies, electronics, software engineering, construction (including clean technologies), creative media and financial services.

The Department was unsuccessful in Budget 2010 in securing funding to retain the additional places on a permanent basis. However, the Department was able to sure sufficient funding to support the run-out of these places.

In 2012, the Department announced that it would fund an additional 300 PhD places under both the Executive’s Jobs and Economy Initiative and the Department’s Higher Education Strategy. These places, which are focussed on areas of economic relevance, will further strengthen the research and development skills base. The first tranche of 100 additional places are due to be allocated in academic year 2013/14 and will, by 2015/16, bring to 795 the number of postgraduate awards funded by the Department.