REF OA requirements

Research Excellence Framework (REF) after 2021: Open Access Requirements

The Open Access policy for the REF after REF 2021 continues as previously.  Currently the Open Access requirements are as follows:

REF OA Deposit Requirements

The REF Open Access policy applies to certain research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016:

  • Articles published in journals with an ISSN.
  • Conference contributions in conference proceedings with an ISSN*

*Note: Conference contribution includes full written papers or other conference contributions that meet the definition of research. For the REF, research is defined as 'a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared'. If in doubt assume your conference contribution needs to comply with the Open Access policy. 

In order for publications to be eligible for REF the following conditions must be met:

  • The authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts (Author’s Accepted Manuscripts) must be deposited in an institutional/subject repository (such as STORRE) within 3 months of acceptance for publication. (Papers that do not require peer review are within the scope of the Open Access policy. In this instance, the author’s final accepted version must be deposited).
  • Deposited material should be discoverable and free to read and download
  • The policy allows authors to respect embargo periods set by publishers of: up to 12 months for Main Panels A and B; or 24 months for Main Panels C and D (Social sciences, Arts & Humanities). If you publish in a journal with a longer embargo a policy exception may be applied – see: What if my output doesn’t comply below.
  • The requirement applies to journal articles (including systematic reviews) and papers from conference proceedings*.
  • The policy does not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data.
  • For publications to be eligible they should have a publication date (or online publication date) from 1st January 2014 onwards. Publications with publication dates after 31st December 2020 must continue to comply with the REF Open Access requirements.  
  • Following on from some initial decisions in September 2017, the UK higher education funding bodies made further final decisions on staff and outputs in November 2017.

Complying with the REF OA Policy

To comply with the REF policy, Stirling researchers should submit their publication details to Worktribe and attach the full-text PDF file of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts. The PDF file will be copied to STORRE, the University's institutional repository.

A PDF version of Complying With REF Open Access Policy is available.

Adding accepted papers to Worktribe

The process for adding accepted papers to Worktribe is outlined in detail in the Worktribe Adding Outputs guide.

Date of Acceptance and required version of publication

The date of acceptance is the point at which the author is notified that:

  • their output has been reviewed by the journal or conference (normally via peer review)
  • all academically necessary changes have been made in response to that review
  • the article is ready to be taken through the final steps toward publication (normally copy-editing and typesetting).

By this point, the paper should have been updated to include all changes resulting from peer review as well as any changes of an academic nature requested by the journal editor or conference organiser. At this stage, the journal editor or conference organiser normally notifies the author that their paper has been ‘firmly’ accepted (as opposed to any earlier point of ‘provisional’ acceptance e.g. conditional on major or minor revisions being made) and the paper is ready for copy-editing or typesetting; it is the date of this notification that should be taken to mean the date of acceptance.

The author’s final, accepted manuscript is the one that has been agreed with the editor at that point. The accepted manuscript is not the same as the copy-edited, typeset or published paper – these versions are known as ‘proofs’ or ‘versions of record’ and publishers do not normally allow authors to make these open-access.

Identifying the correct version of the manuscript is not always easy – see the blog post ‘Manuscript detectives - submitted, accepted or published?'

Suitable Open Access Repository

Note that making your publication available via social networking sites such as ResearchGate or will not meet the REF Open Access requirement. A social networking site is not an open access repository and there are major differences between such networking sites and Open Access institutional/subject repositories (such as STORRE).

What if my output doesn't comply?

There may be occasions when an item cannot meet the Open Access requirements outlined above. In these cases an exception must be noted for the output to be REF eligible.

Deposit exceptions

If you know you will not be able to deposit your accepted manuscript in Worktribe (for STORRE) within the appropriate timescale (as soon after the point of acceptance as possible, and no later than three months after this date), contact the Repository Librarian as soon as possible.

If you know your accepted manuscript is later than the 3 months Deposit requirement, you will need to enter your reason in the Notes field that appears in Worktribe when you are adding details/depositing your publication (use the Notes field in the Details tab or when you attach your file).  Examples or reasons for non-compliance could be: you were not employed on a Category A eligible contract at another UK HEI at the time of submission for publication or there was a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (for instance, where a paper has multiple authors).

If after the 3 months has elapsed it is possible to deposit your publication file you should go ahead and do this. You can request a change to the Worktribe record so that you can attach the file – see the Worktribe guide.

Access exceptions

Not all publications allow a repository to make the accepted manuscript available. Some may offer embargo periods that are longer than the 12/24 months permitted by the REF policy. In these cases, you can cite an exception if you can justify that the publication was the most appropriate place for the output. HEFCE is looking for evidence that authors are aware of the OA requirements and have made best efforts to make their work OA.

You should consider the embargo length a publication requires before committing to publish there, and consider if there is a viable alternative that does offer a compliant embargo period. 

If you know your publication does not have a compliant embargo period, you will need to give your evidence that this publication was the most appropriate; enter your explanation in the Notes field that appears when you attach your file when depositing your work in Worktribe. (You should still deposit your work in Worktribe (for STORRE) within 3 months of acceptance).

For example:

“I have considered submitting this article to a number of journals. Given its prominence in the field of X [and/or] the journal’s readership, journal Y is the most appropriate one for the output.”

“I am aware of the Open Access requirements for the REF and take them into account when considering publishing venues. Ideally I would publish in a venue with no embargo or a shorter embargo that complies with the REF requirements. Unfortunately on this occasion the most appropriate journal (that would accept my submission) did not comply with the Access requirements.”

Questions about Worktribe and Open Access

If you have any questions about the Worktribe and Open Access, contact: