Higher education research and knowledge exchange

A key aim of the department is to develop and sustain a higher education research sector that holds a strong position within the UK and beyond and makes a major contribution to economic and social well-being.

Responsibilities of Higher Education Research and Knowledge Exchange (HERKE) branch

HERKE branch is responsible for the formulation, development, and oversight of the implementation of higher education research and knowledge exchange policy and funding in accordance with Northern Ireland’s (NI) needs.

The branch provides core funding for these two fundamental aspects of our universities’ work, manages the NI element of two international research programmes, and oversees promotion of NI participation in European research funding programmes, Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe.

Research funding

The department provides research funding for the Northern Ireland universities through a range of mechanisms. The majority of year on year (recurrent) research funding is distributed by reference to quality as assessed by performance in the most recent research assessment exercise, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014. This is known as Quality-related Research (QR) funding. 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.

QR funding also enables the universities to apply for competitive funding to cover the direct costs of specific research projects from funders such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), industry, charities, government departments and the European Union.

There are thus two main kinds of higher education research funding in Northern Ireland, known as the Dual Support System:

  • funding provided by the department to promote a dynamic and sustainable research base within universities
  • funding made available to all UK universities on a competitive basis for specific projects by UKRI research councils and other funders.

The department provides capital funding for research through the Higher Education Research Capital (HERC) fund.

Post graduate studentship scheme

The branch also has responsibility for the policy of DfE postgraduate research studentships.

This policy is currently due for review, however any queries can be directed to Higher Education Research and Knowledge Exchange branch.

The research activity of the Northern Ireland universities is a vital ingredient in the development of the future economy in Northern Ireland.

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