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Open Access and REF

Open access is an important part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment of research quality. All journal articles and conference papers need to comply with Research England's REF open access policy. 

The last submission to REF took place on 31 March 2021.  Existing REF open access policy will apply until further notice, but it is widely expected that future exercises will include open access requirements for a wider range of outputs, and that requirements will be similar to those required for UKRI funded research.

Outputs acknowledging UKRI grants will also need to comply with the UKRI Open Access Policy 2021 which implements Plan S. See Plan S and publishing your research for details of how this applies to Brunel research outputs.

The frequently asked questions and answers below may be useful to help you understand the policy as it applied to REF 2021.  Further information and resources are also available on the intranet (internal only).

Which research outputs fall under the Open Access policy for REF?

Under current REF policy, there is an open access requirement for all journal articles and published conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). The policy applies to all in scope articles accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016.

Research England encourages open access for other output types, including research data where possible. Policy for the post-2021 REF exercise has not been announced and current REF policy applies until it is revised. 

What will I need to do to ensure I meet REF requirements?

If you are eligible to be included in the REF, you will need to deposit your accepted manuscript in BRAD as soon as you receive notification of final acceptance from the publisher. Guidance on how to deposit your publications in BRAD can be found here

Your article must be discoverable in the institutional repository, BURA no later than three months (90 days) of receiving confirmation of final acceptance from the publisher.

It is important that you deposit your final accepted manuscript in BRAD as soon acceptance is confirmed, to ensure that your publication remains eligible for REF submission and allow sufficient time for the Open Research and Rights team to review it, check publisher conditions and complete all necessary administration before releasing it in BURA to meet the deadlines. 

The University's Open Access Mandate also lists other key steps that Brunel staff researchers should follow. These are designed to help you keep your work accessible and discoverable in line with REF policy. 

What is an Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM)?

An Author Accepted Manuscript is the version of an article after peer review but before publisher typesetting. It may sometimes be referred to as the ‘final author version’ or 'post-print'. It will typically be a word processed document. Most publishers allow accepted manuscripts to be deposited in the institutional repository, BURA, subject to an embargo period. An example of an accepted manuscript can be found here.

The final published version or publisher PDF cannot normally be deposited in BURA, unless this is permitted by the publisher. Publisher permissions can be checked for individual journals using the SHERPA/RoMEO database.

What does date of acceptance mean?

Research England specifies date of acceptance as being the point at which an author has received the following notifications:

  • That the publication has been peer reviewed

  • That all academically necessary changes have been made in response to peer review.

  • That the article is ready to be taken through to the final steps toward publication, normally copy-editing and typesetting.

At this point, the publisher notifies the author that their work has been firmly accepted for publication. It is the date of this notification which should be recorded in BRAD. Dates of acceptance are usually listed on the publisher versions of journal articles and in the publicly available metadata. There may be slight variances in dates where these have been manually recorded based on email confirmation. 

What should I do if my paper is embargoed? Will it still be eligible?

Yes, the REF Open Access policy respects publisher imposed embargo periods which are not excessive. You are still required to deposit all research articles in BRAD within three months of acceptance for publication. The Open Research and Rights team automatically checks embargo periods for each paper deposited as they are reviewed and sets the appropriate date in BURA to ensure that the full text is automatically released at the end of the appropriate embargo period. 

 Is there a maximum embargo period allowed under REF rules?

Research England specified maximum embargo periods for particular REF panels in REF 2021. While these apply until the REF open access policy is revised, they may not apply to future REF exercises. 

Currently the maximum embargo periods for research articles are:

  • 12 months for REF panels A and B

  • 24 months for REF panels C and D

To check the embargo periods for a particular journal you can search for the title in the SHERPA/RoMEO database, which contains extensive information on publisher copyright and sharing policies. 

Changes to acceptable embargo periods are expected in future post 2021 REF policy, to remove access barriers and delays to public availability for outputs published by authors at Research England funded institutions. 

What should I do if the journal which is the most appropriate publication for my output requires an embargo period that exceeds the stated maxima?

The REF open access policy allows exceptions to be applied if the journal has an excessive embargo period. However, Research England strongly advises authors to have the embargo limits in mind when choosing an appropriate publication venue, in addition to any specific funder requirements. 

Many public funders, including UKRI, have now written into grant conditions that journal articles and conference proceedings which directly acknowledge their funding are made immediately available under a CC-BY licence without embargo in an institutional repository or publisher website at the time of first online publication. Authors are strongly urged to ensure articles meet both REF and funder requirements to ensure that work remains eligible. 

Are journal articles and conference proceedings now the only output types eligible for the next REF?

No, other research outputs are still eligible for REF submission, but the open access policy for REF2021 only covers journal articles and conference proceedings.  It is expected that open access will be required for a wider range of outputs in future REF exercises. Research England will consult on their intended REF policy for the post-2021 REF, and is expected to have commonality with the UKRI Open Access Policy 2021 which applies to in scope research articles submitted from 1 April 2022. 

Under Brunel’s Research Integrity Code, researchers are encouraged to make all output types open access, wherever possible. Open access to a range of research outputs also contributes to a robust and vital research environment. It is also increasingly required and encouraged by many research funders, including UK Research & Innovation, Wellcome Trust, and the European Commission. 

Why can’t I just deposit my papers on ResearchGate, or my personal website?

ResearchGate and Academia are academic social networking sites rather than subject or institutional repositories and do not meet Research England's technical standards and requirements for open access. 

In many cases, there may be copyright restrictions on uploading papers to these sites and some publishers do not allow or encourage it. As such they do not allow authors to meet open access requirements. 

Personal websites, even where hosted by an institution, also do not meet the policy's open access technical standards. 

While some subject repositories fall within the scope of the policy, a definitive list of acceptable subject repositories is not provided, therefore, it is vital that staff authors deposit newly accepted papers in BRAD so they can be archived in BURA in line with REF requirements and technical standards. 

My previous institution did not make my work open access. Is my work now ineligible?

This is covered in the current REF policy's technical exceptions.

As soon as you start at Brunel, you should record all publications in BRAD which fall within the scope of the policy, which are accepted from 1 January 2022. 

You should also deposit the Author Accepted Manuscript or Version of Record for journal articles and conference papers with an ISSN.  Please then email with details of the situation, which will allow the Open Research and Rights team to record an exception. 

My previous role was not at a UK Higher Education Institution. What should I do?  

This situation is covered in the REF policy's deposit exceptions.

As soon as you start at Brunel, you should record all publications in BRAD which fall within the scope of the policy and publication period for REF 2028, which are accepted for publication from 1 January 2022.

You should also deposit the Author Accepted Manuscript or Version of Record for journal articles and conference papers with an ISSN.   

Please then email with details of the situation, which will allow the Open Research and Rights to record an exception.

I am not the corresponding author and cannot access the peer-reviewed manuscript. Will I be granted extra time or an exception?

You are still expected to deposit within three months of acceptance even if you are not the corresponding author. However, a deposit exception can be registered if it has proved particularly difficult for you to access the accepted manuscript. If this applies to you, please contact explaining the situation so the Open Research and Rights team can record the exception. 

Please note: Research England does not expect to see wide use of this exception, due to their concern that it is open to abuse and may audit exceptions and associated evidence. 

It is strongly advised that co-authors communicate with corresponding authors to ensure that they are aware of open access requirements. If the corresponding author is not a Brunel staff member, a Brunel co-author must ensure they upload the Author Accepted Manuscript to their own BRAD profile.