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Library Research Support

Open access and REF

Research England (previously HEFCE) undertakes a quality assessment of research conducted at UK universities every 5 or 6 years. This informs a league table of research excellence for institutions and individual Units of Assessment (similar to disciplines) as well as the allocation of public research funding to institutions. For the current exercise REF2021, there is an Open Access requirement and at the moment that requirement is the same for the next REF.

This page provides information about the Open Access requirements for the REF.  For Help with this, please contact the Library Research Support Team:

For advice and guidance on other aspects of the REF:

Open Access requirements

In order to be eligible for the next REF, journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN number must be made available via an institutional or subject repository. This means that the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscript (aka post-print)

  • must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository, where they are discoverable and free to read and download by anyone with an internet connection
  • must be deposited no later than three months after the point of acceptance for publication

This policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016. It does not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data.

Author actions: what you need to do
At the point of acceptance, or at the latest within three months of acceptance:

  • create a record for your paper in Elements.
  • deposit the final peer-reviewed manuscript in Elements so that it is deposited in SHURA.
  • forward the email with evidence of the date of acceptance from your journal editor or conference organiser to

For more information about using Elements and depositing your manuscript please see our pages about using Elements.

At the point of publication

  • if you are publishing your work as gold Open Access, email with the publisher’s final version of record.

Full details of the requirements can be found in the REF Guidance on Submissions (2019/01).

Date of acceptance and final peer-reviewed manuscript

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 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 this open-access.

Conference proceedings acceptance dates

The date of acceptance for conference proceedings is not the date at which your contribution to the conference was accepted for presentation, but rather the date at which your fully authored research output was accepted for publication in the conference proceedings.

Embargo periods

If any research output has an embargo period, authors can comply with the policy by making a ‘closed’ deposit on acceptance. A ‘closed’ deposit is discoverable to anyone with an Internet connection before the full text becomes available for read and download (which will occur after the embargo period has elapsed). Closed deposits will be admissible to the REF. The length of an acceptable embargo period differs per Unit of Assessment:

  • panel A (health) 12 months
  • panel B (science, technology, engineering and math) 12 months
  • panel C (social sciences) 24 months
  • panel D (humanities) 24 months


In some cases it may not be possible to make your research output available via Open Access in time.  There are some exceptions for those who are not in a position to meet the OA requirements. The exceptions are outlined in the REF Guidance on Submissions (2019/01). (pages 58-59).

If you think an exception needs to be applied, please alert your Unit of Assessment Coordinator using the Form for exceptions to the REF policy for open access (Word) to provide evidence for the exception. If your Coordinator agrees that an exception needs to be applied, they will communicate the evidence provided in the form to the Library Research Support Team.

You can find your Unit of Assessment Coordinator here.

Form: REF-OA policy exceptions-form-2019

Deposit exceptions

  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF was unable to secure the use of a repository at the point of acceptance.
  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF experienced a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (this is “only likely where the paper has more than one author and the individual being submitted to the REF was not responsible for corresponding with the publisher”)
  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF was not employed by a UK HEI at the time of submission for publication.
  • It would be unlawful to deposit the output.
  • Depositing the output would present a security risk.

Access exceptions

  • Open Access to the final peer reviewed manuscript within three months of the date of acceptance is not required in the following three cases.  Please note that in these cases HEFCE does require (1) a closed deposit within three months of the date of acceptance, and (2) that the output is made available via Open Access as soon as possible.
  • The output depends on the reproduction of third party content for which open access rights could not be granted (either within the specified timescales, or at all).
  • The publication concerned requires an embargo period that exceeds the stated maxima, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.
  • The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.

Technical and Further exceptions

There are also a number of technical and further exceptions. For more details, please see the REF Guidance on Submissions (2019/01). (pages 58-59) or contact the Library Research Support Team


Gold Open Access

  • Outputs published as ‘Gold’ Open Access can meet the requirements of the REF policy if the PDF is freely available on the publisher's website/journal page immediately at the point of first online publication and with a licence which allows copying and reuse.
  • However, we ask that the final accepted manuscript should still be deposited on Elements within 3 months of acceptance.