Higher education 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.

Higher education quality-related research (QR) funding

QR 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.

Total QR funding (£s) in Northern Ireland, 2014/15 to 2020/21, includes the QR quality premium pot and Research Degree Programme supervision

Queen's University and Ulster University
QUB Mainstream QR QUB Charities Support UU Mainstream QR UU Charities Support
2020/21 29,370,075 2,989,407 13,814,775 394,554
2019/20 29,534,139 2,988,442 13,659,712 339,836
2018/19 29,607,317 3,000,804 13,577,531 380,829
2017/18 29,548,395 3,048,335 13,636,453 333,047
2016/17 29,486,896 2,997,582 13,701,184 388,727
2015/16 27,867,926 3,077,632 13,190,936 308,677
2014/15 29,088,048 3,353,296 15,847,224 351,637
Stranmillis University College
Mainstream QR
2020/21 57,613 2,348
2019/20 57,613 4,030
2018/19 57,613 4,675
2017/18 57,613 4,927
2016/17 57,383 0
2015/16 57,383 0
2014/15 49,678 0
2013/14 49,678 0
2012/13 49,678 0
Total Northern Ireland QR Funding
Academic Year*  Total Northern Ireland QR Funding
2020/21 46,628,772
2019/20 46,628,772
2018/19 46,628,771
2017/18 46,628,771
2016/17 46,628,771
2015/16 44,502,553
2014/15 49,261,431
2013/14 49,261,431
2012/13 49,261,431

*Academic Years run from August to July

Explanation of QR funding method

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 most recent research assessment exercise, currently the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Tables containing details of QR funding and research volume components for 2012/13 and 2018/19, broken down by subject, for each of the institutions are available to download:


The quality of research, as assessed in the REF 2014, was presented as quality profiles which show the proportion of research activity judged to have met each of the four starred quality levels. These profiles were awarded a rating, on a scale of unclassified to 4* (four stars).

The table below shows how these ratings relate to funding multipliers in academic year 2018/9. A rating of unclassified, 1* (one star) or 2* (two stars) attracts no funding, while a rating of 4* (four stars) attracts four times as much funding as a rating of 3* (three stars) for the same volume of research activity.

REF 2014 Funding weights in QR model
Unclassified 0
1* 0
2* 0
3* 1.0
4* 4.0


The volume of research in each unit of assessment is the full time equivalent number of research active staff submitted to REF 2014. 

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 three 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

QR Quality (Premium) Pot

A QR Quality pot was introduced in 2012/13 from which universities received a £125k or £250k fixed allocation for Units of Assessment (UoAs) which were deemed to be STEM related or areas of wider economic relevance.

Post Graduate Research (PGR) Funding Stream (also known as the Research Degree Programme (RDP) Supervision Fund)

PGR funding is provided to universities as a standard contribution to the costs of supervising mainly home research students. It is distributed between our universities on the basis of quality and of eligible cost‑weighted home and EC PGR full-time equivalents.

The UK’s exit from the EU took place on 31 January 2020. A transition period following the UK’s exit from the EU ends on 31 December 2020. From 1 January 2021, post-EU exit immigration rules will apply.

The above requirements will not apply to Irish nationals living in the UK and Ireland whose right to study and to access benefits and services will be preserved on a reciprocal basis for UK and Irish nationals under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

It has been confirmed that postgraduate support would be unaffected by the EU exit for all students who start a course in academic year (AY) 20/21 or earlier.






2020/21 7,141,462 2,767,742 9,909,204
2019/20 7,305,526 2,603,679 9,909,205
2018/19 7,378,704 2,530,500 9,909,204
2017/18 7,319,782 2,589,422 9,909,204
2016/17 7,257,051 2,652,154 9,909,205
2015/16 5,614,081 2,141,906 7,782,987
2014/15 6,110,140 2,405,163 8,515,303
2013/14 5,988,306 2,526,997 8,515,303
2012/13 6,041,531 2,473,772 8,515,303
2011/12 6,376,636 2,682,197 9,058,833

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 and 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 Research England (formerly higher education funding council for England/HEFCE) and brings the NI universities broadly into line with their English counterparts.

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