Performance-Based Research Fund

Performance-Based Research Fund

Last updated 2 July 2024
Last updated 2 July 2024

The purpose of the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) is to increase the quality of research by ensuring that excellent research in the tertiary education sector is encouraged and rewarded. This means assessing the research performance of tertiary education organisations (TEOs) and then funding them on the basis of their performance.

Te Pūkenga, private training establishments (PTEs), universities and wānanga can choose to participate.

The PBRF is an on-Plan fund.


The Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) is designed to increase the quality of research by encouraging and rewarding excellent research in Aotearoa New Zealand’s degree-granting organisations. It does not fund specific research projects directly, but provides bulk funding to support an organisation’s research capability, including postgraduate-level teaching support.


The primary objectives of the PBRF are to:

  • increase the quality of basic and applied research at Aotearoa New Zealand's degree-granting TEOs;
  • support world-leading, research-led teaching and learning at degree and postgraduate levels;
  • assist Aotearoa New Zealand's TEOs to maintain and lift their competitive rankings relative to their international peers;
  • provide robust public information to stakeholders about research performance within and across TEOs; and
  • support a robust and inclusive system for developing and sustaining research excellence in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In doing so, the PBRF will also:

  • support the development of postgraduate student researchers and new and emerging researchers;
  • support research activities that provide economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits to Aotearoa New Zealand, including the advancement of Mātauranga Māori; and 
  • support technology and knowledge transfer to Aotearoa New Zealand businesses, iwi and communities.

Rewarding excellence

To meet these objectives, the main focus of the PBRF is on rewarding and encouraging excellence.

For the purposes of the Quality Evaluation, research excellence will be assessed in terms of originality, rigour, reach, and significance, with reference to the quality standards appropriate to the subject area and to the unique nature of Aotearoa New Zealand’s research cultures and needs.

Excellence will be assessed across the following areas of activity:

  • The production and creation of knowledge, including ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies unique to Māori and to Pacific communities;
  • The dissemination and application of that knowledge within academic and/or other communities and its impact outside the research environment; and
  • Activity which sustains and develops the research environment, within and across both academic and non-academic domains. 

Guiding principles

The PBRF is governed by the following principles:

  • Partnership: the PBRF should reflect the bicultural nature of Aotearoa New Zealand and the special role and status of the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • Equity: different approaches and resources are needed to ensure that the measurement of research excellence leads to equitable outcomes.
  • Inclusiveness: the PBRF should encourage and recognise the full diversity of epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies to reflect Aotearoa New Zealand’s people.
  • Comprehensiveness: the PBRF should appropriately measure the quality of the full range of original investigative activity that occurs within the sector, regardless of its type, form, or place of output. 
  • Respect for academic traditions: the PBRF should operate in a manner that is consistent with academic freedom and institutional autonomy. 
  • Consistency: evaluations of quality made through the PBRF should be consistent across the different subject areas and in the calibration of quality ratings against international standards of excellence. 
  • Continuity: changes to the PBRF process should only be made where they can bring demonstrable improvements that outweigh the cost of implementing them. 
  • Differentiation: the PBRF should allow stakeholders and the Government to differentiate between providers and their units on the basis of their relative quality. 
  • Credibility: the methodology, format and processes employed in the PBRF must be credible to those being assessed. 
  • Efficiency: administrative and compliance costs should be kept to the minimum, consistent with a robust and credible process. 
  • Transparency: decisions and decision-making processes must be explained openly, except where there is a need to preserve confidentiality and privacy. 
  • Complementarity: the PBRF should be integrated with new and existing policies, such as Investment Plans, and quality assurance systems for degrees and degree providers.

Background to the PBRF

In November 2001, the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission recommended the introduction of a performance-based research fund for tertiary education organisations (TEOs). 

The Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF) Working Group was established in July 2002. It advised government on the detailed design and implementation of a performance-based system for funding research in New Zealand’s degree-granting organisations.

Cabinet endorsed the PBRF Working Group’s recommendations in December 2002. These recommendations, which are the basis of the PBRF, are in the report Investing in Excellence (PDF 604 KB).

The origins of PBRF funding are in the funding provided to tertiary education organisations for teaching, specifically the portion they received as a “top-up” for teaching research degrees. These funds were not intended to fund research, but to enable tertiary education providers to provide research-based teaching. While the Government has invested additional money over time, most of the fund comes from these top-ups. 

How the fund works

The PBRF comprises three funding components:

  • The Quality Evaluation
  • Research Degree Completions, and
  • External Research Income.

PBRF funding is paid through the Investment Plan. Delivery of the Plan is monitored by the TEC.

Quality Evaluation

The Quality Evaluation is an assessment of the research performance of staff at eligible TEOs, including universities, Te Pūkenga, wānanga and private training establishments (PTEs). TEOs present their staff members research in Evidence Portfolios, which are assessed for quality by expert peer review panels. 

This component is used to allocate 55 percent of the PBRF funding pool, determined by the Government through its annual Budget.

The Quality Evaluation is held periodically. The next Quality Evaluation was due to be held in 2026. However, the Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills has decided that Quality Evaluation 2026 will not go ahead.

A University Advisory Group (UAG) has been established by the Government to carry out an independent review of the university system including the PBRF.

There have been four previous Quality Evaluation rounds, in 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018. For more information about these earlier rounds see Previous Quality Evaluation Rounds.

Research Degree Completions

The Research Degree Completions component is a yearly measurement of the number of PBRF-eligible postgraduate research-based degrees completed at participating TEOs.

This component is used to allocate 25 percent of the fund.

For information on how RDC funding is calculated, see Detailed fund information – PBRF.

External Research Income

The External Research Income (ERI) component is a yearly measurement of the amount and type of income participating TEOs receive for research purposes from external sources.

This component is used to allocate 20 percent of the fund.

For information on how ERI funding is calculated, see Detailed fund information – PBRF.

ERI weighting

Following the 2019–20 review of the PBRF, the Government amended the weightings applied to the different types of ERI.

From 1 January 2022 ERI income is weighted by income source as follows. 

Source of external research income


Aotearoa New Zealand government contestable funds


Aotearoa New Zealand public sector contract research


Non-government income from within Aotearoa New Zealand


Overseas research income


The new weightings on ERI income source apply to the 2022 ERI data that is reported in 2023 and will inform the calculation of TEOs’ PBRF funding allocations from the 2024 funding year onwards. By 2026, all of the ERI component will be allocated based on ERI weighted by source.

Any ERI data reported by TEOs for years prior to 2022 will continue to be weighted at the rates set out in the 2014 Funding Determination, as set out in the table below.

 Source of external research income


Aotearoa New Zealand government contestable funds


Aotearoa New Zealand public sector contract research


Non-government income from within Aotearoa New Zealand


Overseas research income


Allocation of funding for ERI is based on each TEO’s proportion of the total ERI earned by all participating TEOs, weighted by funding source. 

For guidance on completing ERI returns, see the PBRF User Manual v5 (PDF 907 KB).

Review of the PBRF, 2019–2020

Cabinet announced changes to the PBRF in July 2021, after a review of the PBRF in 2019–2020.

The review examined how to support research excellence by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the PBRF. It aimed to ensure the benefits of research are shared across Aotearoa New Zealand.

For more information on the review, including the panel’s final report and Cabinet’s decisions on changes to the PBRF, see Performance-Based Research Fund – Ministry of Education.