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Wednesday 23 January
My.Anglia > Rido > Research > Ref > REF and Open Access

REF and Open Access

In March 2014, following a period of consultation, HEFCE announced a Policy for Open Access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework.

Their requirements apply only to journal articles and conference contributions (when published in proceedings carrying an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)), which are accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016.

In order to be eligible for submission for the next REF, the author accepted (aka post print) version must be deposited in an institutional repository (such as ARRO) or other eligible repository as soon as possible after acceptance and within three months of this date. Where the published version is available within this period, and the publisher permits such use, the published version may be deposited in place of the author accepted version; and the published version may subsequently be used to augment the repository in any case.

The metadata describing the output must be immediately discoverable once uploaded to the repository. However, the output itself can be held under embargo in line with publishers' requirements, so long as the embargo does not exceed

  • 12 months for researchers working in most STEM subjects, under REF Main Panels A and B
  • 24 months for researchers working in social sciences, and the arts and humanities, under REF Main Panels C and D.

Once the output itself becomes discoverable, it must remain so.

The output must be presented in such a way that allows anyone with internet access to search electronically within the text, read it and download it without charge. While the output may be licensed, for example using a Creative Commons licence, its use cannot be restricted more greatly than the conditions imposed by a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commerical Non Derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) licence.

HEFCE have identified a number of exceptions where the output is unable to meet the deposit requirements. These may relate to the individual's employment position or role in a multi-author collaboration; where the deposit could be met but access cannot be arranged for various reasons such as third party copyright; or where there were temporary technical issues. However, these are expected to be infrequent and while HEFCE will be tolerant of occasional failures, institutions are expected to make every effort to ensure that outputs meet the open access requirements in the correct timescale, and to arrange it retrospectively where they do not.

HEFCE also promised additional credit under the 'research environment' section of the post-2014 REF to institutions which demonstrate they have taken steps to enable open access to output types outside the scope of this definition, and to go further enabling the reuse of work, such as by presenting outputs in formats that enable text-mining.

In July 2015, having recognised that meeting the above requirements was more challenging than had been anticipated, HEFCE decided to temporarily relax its position such that outputs accepted for publication between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017 had to meet them between date of acceptance and three months after publication, reverting to the original, more stringent requirements as of 1 April 2017. In common with most other HEIs, however, to keep communications to staff simple we are sticking to the original timescale of the requirements needing to be met within three months of acceptance, in our messages and other publicity.

At this time HEFCE also identified a blanket exception in respect of 'gold' open access publications (i.e. where authors had paid for immediate open access). In such cases HEFCE recognised that because the published version would be deposited and acknowledged that sometimes these would not always be available within three months of acceptance, and so waived the deposit requirements. Nonetheless, HEFCE recommend that such outputs are deposited in an institutional repository as soon as possible after acceptance. Finally, HEFCE's statement also clarified that information on open access policies as collated by shared services such as SHERPA would be regarded as being sufficiently authoritative for institutions to act on in pursuit of meeting the open access requirements for the next REF; institutions were not expected to try to verify such information in addition.

In November 2016, HEFCE announced that the relaxation extending the deadline for deposit to three months post-publication would continue until 31 March 2018; a further review was to take place in November 2017.

In November 2017, HEFCE announced that, given the progress that had been made, it now preferred to revert its policy to the original, more stringent expectations as of 1 April 2018. However, in recognition of the continuing challenges, it decided to introduce a new exception as of that date, to remain in force for the remainder of the REF period, to allow the submission of outputs that had not been deposited within three months of date of acceptance but which were deposited within three months of the date of publication.

RIDO and the University Library jointly produced a leaflet about the value of open access and depositing in ARRO, including reference to the REF requirements. Note that this was published prior to the relaxation of HEFCE's policy in July 2015, and therefore refers to the more stringent initial expectations.


Beyond REF 2021?

There are already strong indicators that open access requirements for the next REF but one will be more extensive. HEFCE's planned consultation on the next REF, which was to run in autumn 2015 but was postponed (see About the REF), stated HEFCE's intention to extend open access requirements to monographs in the next REF but one. Meanwhile the Minister for Universities, Jo Johnson, called in early 2016 for "almost all" of UK research output to be made available on an open access basis by 2020. In December 2016, the four UK Higher Education Funding Bodies signalled their intention to move towards a requirement for open access monograpghs in the post-2021 REF.


Further information