Research and Development

The Northern Ireland Research & Development Survey provides information on the level of R&D activity in Northern Ireland.

The 2021 R&D Survey results indicate that £1,126.2 million (m) was spent on R&D in NI in 2021 (10.3% more than in 2020). Of the £1,126.2m, £880.2m (78.2%) was spent by Businesses, £219.5m (19.5%) by Higher Education establishments and £26.5m (2.4%) by Government departments.

Key points – Published 15th December 2022

  • The methodology employed to produce Business R&D spend estimates has been improved (from 2018 onwards) to better represent smaller businesses. This improvement has produced figures which provide the best current estimate of Business level R&D spend at the Northern Ireland (NI) level and has been validated against other available data.
  • Revised expenditure on R&D by NI businesses in 2018, 2019 and 2020 were £137.7 million, £159.6 million, and £161.3 million higher than previously estimated, in cash terms.
  • Small companies (with 0-49 employees) accounted for 45.1% of BERD in 2021. Large firms (with more than 250 employees) accounted for 36.2% of BERD.
  • There were 14,080 FTEs working in an R&D role in 2021, 19.7% higher than in 2020 (11,760 FTEs).
  • Around half of all business expenditure on R&D can be attributed to the services sector (£431.6m, 49.0%). 
  • The majority of funding for BERD in 2021 was self-funded by the companies carrying out the R&D work (70.8%).

To maintain the quality of the Northern Ireland R&D statistics, this publication will feature a reduced number of detailed breakdowns compared with previous releases. While the existing National Statistics designation for the Northern Ireland level R&D figures will remain, to help convey the uncertainty, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has asked the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to temporarily pause the National Statistics status of more detailed breakdowns. The OSR confirmed their agreement to this approach in their letter published on 8th December 2022. This is until further redevelopment takes place and there is more certainty on the distribution below the Northern Ireland level.

NISRA has worked closely with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) colleagues over the last nine months as part of their work around the transformation of the annual UK Business Enterprise Research and Development data to give better coverage of small businesses undertaking Research and Development. This has ensured that there is consistency in approach and coherence with the methodological improvements implemented by the ONS for the UK equivalent figures. Further information on this work can be found at the below links.

Options for Transformation of Business Enterprise Research and Development Statistics - Office for National Statistics

Business enterprise research and development, UK - Office for National Statistics (

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development, UK: 2020 - Office for National Statistics (

The methodological improvements have been implemented at the Northern Ireland level from 2018-2021, meaning that comparisons of detailed estimates before 2018 are not possible.

In collaboration with Office for National Statistics, ongoing work will result in improvements to the methodology, including the sampling methods of the Research & Development Survey for 2022 and beyond.

Current publication 

Archive data and quality report


Most recent documents

Contacts for Research and Development

Research and Development

Aaron Maguire
Telephone: 028 9052 9436
Twitter: @NISRA