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Open Access and REF

Open access is an important part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment of research quality. The last submission to REF took place on 31 March 2021. The next submission to REF 2029 is expected to take place in December 2028. 

All journal articles and conference papers eligible for submission need to comply with Research England's REF open access policy. 

Existing REF open access policy (as applicable to REF 2021 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 these requirements will be similar to those required for research funded by UKRI's Research Councils and other Plan S funders, as outlined on Plan S and publishing your research.

Research England is undertaking a consultation on its open access policy for REF 2029 until 17 June 2024, with a new open access policy expected to be announced by Autumn 2024. 

The frequently asked questions and answers below will help you understand current REF policy and will be updated with any amendments.  Further information and resources are also available on the intranet (internal only).

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

You must keep your publications profile in BRAD fully up-to-date, ensuring that all your published outputs are listed, and that you deposit the accepted manuscript for all journal articles and conference proceedings in BRAD immediately on acceptance from the publisher. Guidance on how to deposit your publications in BRAD can be found here

Your journal articles and conference papers must be discoverable in the institutional repository, BURA no later than three months (90 days) from the date of acceptance.

It is important that you deposit your final accepted manuscript in BRAD as soon acceptance is confirmed. This will allow sufficient time for REF open access compliance checks, any applicable publisher embargo periods to be verified, and for your manuscript to be fully processed and made discoverable in BURA by the Open Research and Rights team in line with the timescales specified by Research England.  

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 research accessible and discoverable in line with REF requirements. 

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' and 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 embargo periods which are not excessive.  Brunel academic staff authors are still required to deposit all research articles in BRAD as soon as they receive confirmation of final acceptance for publication, as the output metadata must be visible in the University's repository, BURA, no later than three months from acceptance.

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. Where a publisher embargo period exceeds the maxima permitted by REF for the appropriate assessment panel, this is noted and recorded as a permitted exception. 

If your paper acknowledges a UKRI grant, note that embargo periods are no longer acceptable under the UKRI open access policy and conditions of grant. Future REF policy may require UKRI funded outputs to comply with UKRI grant conditions to be eligible for REF submission. See Plan S and publishing your research for details of how to meet funder open access requirements. 

 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 to outputs accepted 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 to future 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 currently 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.

If your preferred journal does not allow you to meet REF and any additional funder requirements outright, ask Open Access for advice about the options available to you. These include applying Rights Retention wording to your manuscript at the time of submission, to reserve the rights needed to comply with REF and funder requirements. See Plan S and publishing your research for details.

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

No, other research outputs are eligible for REF submission. However, journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN, must also meet REF open access requirements to be eligible for submission to the REF. Authors may keep their papers REF eligible by depositing the Accepted Manuscript immediately on acceptance in an institutional repository, or through immediate open access on a publisher website. 

 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 next REF, and have said that it will have commonality with the UKRI Open Access Policy 2021 which applies to research articles acknowledging UKRI research funding. 

Why can’t I just deposit my papers on an academic social networking site like ResearchGate or my personal or departmental website?

Academic social networking sites like ResearchGate and are peer to peer sharing platforms which do not meet Research England's technical standards for institutional or subject repositories and open access policy requirements. 

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 making papers available here may help make research more visible, but  do not meet the deposit, access and discoverability requirements under the REF open access policy. 

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 are accepted for publication on or after 1 January 2020 which are likely to fall within the eligible publication period for assessment in REF 2029. 

Outputs confirmed to have entered the public domain on or after 1 January 2021 will be eligible for submission to REF 2029.  As the length of the publication process varies from one output to another, the earlier date ensures that all eligible publications can be captured in BRAD. 

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 are accepted for publication from 1 January 2020 and which are likely to fall within the scope of the policy and eligible publication period for REF 2029. Of these, outputs confirmed to have entered the public domain on or after 1 January 2021 will be eligible for submission to REF 2029. 

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.

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. They 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.