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 (HEIs) to conduct their own directed research, much of which is supported later by the UKRI Research Councils and others (charities, the EU etc.). This is known as the Dual Support System.

QR is paid as the research element of the annual (recurrent) block grant to HEIs along with funding to help meet the full cost of charity-funded research. QR (and charities support) funding and can be distributed by the recipient university according to its own strategic priorities.

Total recurrent QR (and Charities Support) funding (£s) in Northern Ireland, 2014/15 to 2022/23

Queen's University and Ulster University


Queens University Belfast

Ulster University

Stranmillis University College


  QR Charities support QR Charities support QR Charities support  
22/23 28,841,742 2,976,547 14,372,938 409,313 27,790 449 46,628,779
21/22 29,412,071 2,975,839 13,772,778 409,782 57,613 688 46,628,771
20/21 29,370,075 2,989,407 13,814,775 394,554 57,613 2,348 46,628,772
19/20 29,534,139 2,988,442 13,650,712 393,836 57,613 4,030 46,583,772
18/19 29,607,317 3,000,804 13,577,531 380,829 57,613 4,675 46,628,769
17/18 29,548,395 3,048,335 13,636,453 333,047 57,613 4,927 46,628,770
16/17 29,486,896 2,997,582 13,701,184 388,727 57,383 0 46,631,772

*Academic Years (A/Y) run from August to July

Explanation of QR funding method

There are two main variables affecting the allocation of QR funds to each HEI: quality of research 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 2016/17 and 2022/23, broken down by subject, for each of the institutions are available to download:


The quality of HEI research submitted to the most REF (2021) is assessed using a rating system from 4 start to unclassified.

Four star Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
Three star Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
Two star Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
One star Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.


Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

The table below shows how these ratings relate to funding multipliers in academic year 2022/23. 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 qiality profile 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 2021. 

Cost weighting

Although quality and volume are the two main variables, each subject is also assigned one of three cost weights, which have 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 HEIs receive a £250k or £125k fixed funding allocation for Units of Assessment (UoAs) which are STEM related or deemed to be in areas of economic relevance. In order to maintain the current weighting of the Quality Pot (as part of total QR) a reduction in the number of UoAs in REF 2021 has increased fixed allocations to STEM and economically relevant UoAs to £318.3k and £159.k  respectively.

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

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

Charities Support element

In 2006, the department introduced the Charities Support element within the block grant to assist HEIs in meeting the full economic cost (FEC) of charity funded research.

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