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Open Access and REF 2021


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 the requirements of the REF open access policy introduced by HEFCE, now UKRI. The policy came into force for selected outputs on 1 April 2016.

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

Which research outputs fall under the Open Access policy for REF2021?

The REF open access policy applies to all journal articles and published conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). The policy applies to outputs accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016.

Under Brunel's Open Access Mandate academic staff are required to make all their research outputs open access, whereever possible. Research England has indicated that extra REF credit may be given to institutions who work towards open access for outputs which fall outside the scope of the policy, such as research data.

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

You will need to deposit your accepted manuscript in BRAD as soon as you receive an acceptance email or letter from the publisher. Full guidance on how to deposit publications in BRAD can be found here.

Your article must be accessible and discoverable in the institutional repository, BURA within three months of receiving the acceptance notice. It is important that you deposit your publications in BRAD as soon as you get the acceptance letter and well within the three month timescale as the Scholarly Communication Office, which manages outputs in BRAD, needs sufficient time to review each item for copyright restrictions and embargo periods.

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.

Please note:  The final published version or publisher PDF cannot normally be deposited in BURA, unless you choose to publish the paper as Gold Open Access under a CC-BY licence, where Brunel pays an article processing charge (APC) to make it instantly open, discoverable and accessible. You can apply for funding to pay for Gold Open Access through BRAD. For further details see Apply for Gold open access publishing funds.  

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 reviewed by the journal or conference. This is normally via peer review.

  • That all academically necessary changes have been made in response to that 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 journal / conference publisher normally 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.

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. You are still required to deposit embargoed publications in BRAD within three months of acceptance. The Scholarly Communication Office team checks  embargo periods for each publication and sets the appropriate embargo period in BURA to ensure that the full text is automatically released at the end of the specified embargo period.

 Is there a maximum embargo period allowed under REF rules?

Research England has specified maximum embargo periods for particular REF panels. These 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 your journal on the SHERPA/RoMEO database, which contains extensive information on publishers' copyright and sharing policies.  You can also use Sherpa REF to look up a journal to view whether it meets the REF open access policy requirements.

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.   

What happens to articles accepted before 1 April 2016? Are they now ineligible for the next REF?

No. It is simply that the REF Open Access policy only covers publications accepted from 1 April 2016. Outputs accepted before this date can still be submitted to the next REF. 

However, you must still ensure that your complete publication history is recorded in BRAD. You should also try to deposit these earlier publications in BRAD, where possible.

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 currently only covers journal articles and conference proceedings.  It is expected that open access will be required for a wider range of outputs in future exercises.

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, academia.edu or my personal website?

ResearchGate and Academia are social media sites rather than subject or institutional repositories and do not meet the requirements of Research England's Open Access policy. There are also copyright restrictions on uploading papers to these sites and some publishers actively discourage it. 

Personal websites also do not meet the requirements of the policy.

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 you deposit your papers in BRAD so they can be archived in BURA.

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

This scenario is covered in the REF policy's technical exceptions. As soon as you start at Brunel you should deposit all publications in BRAD which fall within the scope of the policy. Please then email brad@brunel.ac.uk explaining the situation, which will allow the Scholarly Communication Office 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 deposit all publications in BRAD which fall within the scope of the policy. Please then email brad@brunel.ac.uk explaining the situation, which will allow the Scholarly Communication Office to record an exception.

I am not the first 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 brad@brunel.ac.uk explaining the situation so the Scholarly Communication Office can record the exception.

Please note: Research England does not expect to see wide use of this exception, and is concerned that it may be open to abuse. It is strongly advised that co-authors communicate with corresponding authors to ensure that they are aware of open access requirements for UK academics.