Northern Ireland Research & Development Headline Statistics 2015

Date published: 17 November 2016

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has today released headline results from the 2015 Northern Ireland Research and Development (R&D) survey.

Northern Ireland Research & Development Headline Statistics 2015

Total R&D spend in NI increases by 24% over the year


The key findings include:


  • In 2015 £749.6m was spent on R&D by Businesses, Higher Education and Government in Northern Ireland (NI). This is an increase of £143.7m (24%) in cash terms compared to the previous year, with about 90% (£129.5m) of the increase accounted for by private sector businesses. This is the highest level of total R&D spending on record for the survey.
  • Of the £749.6 million spent on total R&D, £540.0 million (72%) was spent by Businesses, £192.9 million (26%) by the Higher Education sector and the remainder (£16.7 million or 2%) was Government expenditure.
  • The increase in total expenditure was primarily due to an increase of £129.5m (32% over the year) in Business expenditure. There was also an increase of £15.2m in Higher Education expenditure (9%) but a fall of £1.0m (6%) in Government expenditure. 
  • It should be noted that variations may occur in NI R&D data from year to year due to the influence of one or two large scale projects, either starting or finishing. It is likely this contributed to the increase in Business R&D expenditure over the year. Some further detail on the sectoral composition of R&D spend will be published on the 9th December.



Northern Ireland Business R&D expenditure


  • Northern Ireland based businesses’ (in–house1) R&D expenditure has shown an increase in R&D investment from £358 million in 2014 to £501 million in 2015 (40%).
  • There was an 8% increase in the number of local and externally owned companies engaged in R&D over the year, to 714 businesses. Eighty three per cent of businesses that engage in R&D expenditure were locally owned in 2015 (592 businesses). The expenditure of such locally owned companies increased by 27% (£40.0m) between 2014 and 2015.
  • Externally owned companies accounted for 65% (or £349.6m) of Business R&D expenditure in 2015. The expenditure of externally owned companies increased by 34% (£89.5m) between 2014 and 2015.x

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises


  • Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs - enterprises with less than 250 employees) accounted for 47% of Business R&D expenditure. Total R&D expenditure for SMEs increased by £62.8 million (33%) from 2014 to 2015, in cash terms. Since 2010 expenditure has increased by 91% from £133.4m to £254.4 million.
  • Northern Ireland is dependent on a relatively small number of companies for a significant proportion of R&D expenditure. The ten biggest spending companies accounted for 46% of the total R&D spend in NI in 2015. This is higher than the proportion in 2014 (42%).

UK Regional Comparisons


  • Of the 12 UK regions, nine showed an increase in in-house business R&D expenditure in cash terms over the year to 2015.  Northern Ireland increased by 39.9%, which was the highest percentage increase across all the UK regions. In the UK as a whole such expenditure increased by 5.4%. Changes varied from an increase of 39.9% in NI to a decrease of 6.2% in Wales.
  • The NI in-house business R&D expenditure as a proportion of Gross Value Added (GVA) (1.5%) was the fourth highest of the twelve UK regions based on 2014 Regional GVA, and is higher than the UK average rate of 1.3%.


R&D changes in real prices


  • In real terms, total expenditure increased by £141.0m or 23% from £608.5m in 2014 to £749.6m in 2015. It was 34% above the level of such expenditure in 2010.
  • On a real terms basis Business R&D expenditure increased by 31% over the year (£127.7m) and increased by 46% (£171.0m) over the five year period from 2010 to 2015.
  • Expenditure by Higher Education increased by £14.4m (8%) and Government expenditure decreased by £1.1m (6%) in real terms over the year. Since 2010, Higher Education R&D expenditure has increased by £19.3m (11%) while Government spending is at the same level (£16.7m) in real terms.

1 In-house R&D refers to all R&D that a business has undertaken in the reporting period either for itself or for a customer. This is the total cost of R&D conducted by the business regardless of the source of funds or their treatment within their business accounts. This includes all purchased services and materials which supports the in-house R&D that the business performs.

Notes to editors: 

1. For further information – full detailed results will be available in the Research & Development Statistics Bulletin, which will be published on the 9th December 2016 .                             

2. For media enquiries, please contact the Department for the Economy Press Office on 028 9052 9604 or Outside office hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned.

3. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to Dr. Catherine Lynn, Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS), on 028 9052 9359 or at

4. Follow ELMS on Twitter @ELMSNISRA

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