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, 2002/03 to 2017/18, includes the QR quality premium pot, the Research Degree Programme/ Postgraduate Research (RDP/PGR) Supervision Fund.

Queen's University and Ulster University
QUB Mainstream QR QUB Charities Support UU Mainstream QR UU Charities Support
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
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
Stranmillis University College
Mainstream QR
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
2011/12 59,746 3,039
Total Northern Ireland QR Funding
Academic Year*  Total Northern Ireland QR Funding
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
2011/12 50,733,918

*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 2011/12 and 2016/17, broken down by subject, for each of the institutions are available to download below. Stranmillis University College submitted to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) for the first time in 2008. 


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 star).

The table below shows how these ratings relate to funding multipliers in academic year 2017/18. A rating of unclassified, 1* or 2* attracts no funding, while a rating of 4* attracts 4 times as much funding as a rating of 3* 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 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

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. From 2012/13 to 2014/15, QUB received £3.875m and UU received £2m per academic year. In 2015/16 and 2017/18, QUB received £2.971m and UU received £1.485m per academic year.

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 home and EC 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.






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 & 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 £80k funding (held back from the QR pot) was allocated to the two universities in proportion to the QR funding they receive.

The £80k 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.

Higher Education EU Support Fund (£s)
Academic Year QUB UU Total
2014/15 381,203 190,345 571,548
2013/14 378,991 192,557 571,548
2012/13 379,508 192,040 571,548
2011/12 50,460 29,540  80,000

Additional PhDs

The Department currently funds 495 core postgraduate students and 234 Additional PhDs which are focussed on areas of economic relevance. The Department’s Higher Education Strategy has set the target of funding 1000 postgraduate awards by 2020, and these 234 additional awards are a step towards achieving this target. 

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