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Open Access: REF2021

Find out more about what making your research open access, and what it means for REF 2021

HEFCE has produced requirements for the next REF exercise, REF 2021. These requirements include information on what can be submitted and the criteria it must meet to be eligible. The timeline for REF submission is:

  • 2019: invite HEIs to make submissions
  • 31July 2020: end of assessment period (for research impacts, the research environment and related data)
  • November 2020: closing date for submissions
  • 31 December 2020: end of publication period for publication of research outputs and outputs underpinning impact case studies
  • 2021: assessment year
  • December 2021: publication of outcomes
  • Spring 2022: publication of submissions and reports

Eligibility and Assessment Criteria

Open Access criteria only relate, at this time, to journal articles and conference papers published with an ISSN. This does not mean that other research outputs are not eligible for REF submission but that they do not have to be made available through open access publishing. 

To be considered as open access, anyone with an internet connection must be able to access, download and search within  the full text of your research article without any cost to them. 

From 1st April 2016 any research published as open access must have been deposited within an institutional open access repository up to 3 months after the publicaton date. This criteria applies to both the bibliographic record and the full text of the output.

From 1st April 2018 the REF2021 open access policy will require deposits to be made within 3 months of acceptance. A deposit exception has been agreed where this can not be met. 


REF Submission Assessment Criteria

Each submission is assessed against three elements. The quality of outputs (e.g. are they an exhibition, performance or publication? Are they one star or three star publications?)The impact of outputs beyond academia, and the environment that supports the research. Assessments are conducted by expert panels, for each of the subject-based units of assessment. Panels are comprised of senior academics, international members and research users. 


All research outputs may be eligible for REF 2021 submission, including monographs, chapters, art installations, however, the open access criteria is only applied to journal articles and papers published with an ISSN.
The HEFCE decisions on staff and outputs was published in November 2017. It states that all staff with significant responsibility for research are to be returned to the REF. HEFCE will work with HEIs to identify staff who fall within scope. Staff who fall within scope may be classed as either Category A eligible or Category A submitted.
Category A eligible staff will be defined as "as academic staff with a contract of employment of 0.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) or greater, on the payroll of the submitting institution on the census date, whose primary employment function is to undertake either research only or teaching and research.
Category B submitted staff will be defined as " staff from among the total pool who have been identified as having significant responsibility for research on the census date. This will include all staff on research-only contracts who are Category A eligible.
The latest guidance from HEFCE indicates that if you published papers at another institution which meet the criteria of REF2021, they may be claimed by both the originating institution and the new institution. This is referred to as the 'portability' of outputs. We request that any papers published and eligible are deposited into OARS.
We request that all of your research outputs are deposited in OARS, regardless of type or open access publication route.
Embargo periods are set by publishers, but for the associated research output to be eligible for REF2021 they must comply with limits set by HEFCE. Funding agencies may also set limits on embargo periods, and you should ensure that your preferred publication complies with these limits. Embargo periods for outputs submitted to panels A and B should be no longer than 12 months. Embargo periods for outputs submitted to panels C and D should be no longer than 24 months. SHERPA tools can help you to make decision about compliance with funder policy and publisher policy in relation to open access and embargo periods for self-archiving in an open access repository. JISC have also developed a tool to help you verify compliance with REF OA policy more generally.
A full list of permitted exceptions can be found on the HEFCE guidance pages. A particular exception relating to deposit timelines has been introduced. Where it is not possible for the full text to deposited within 3 months of the date of acceptance, deposit up to 3 months of the earliest date of publication may be permitted, and enable the research to remain compliant. In such instances, the exception shall read "The output was not deposited within three months of acceptance date, but was deposited within three months of the earliest date of publication."
A specific licence has not be requested, but there is an expectation that the anyone should be able to read, download or search the work electronically. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND would meet this expectation as a minimum as would other outputs published under CC BY and other more permissive open licences.
Visit the REF 2021 website for information on submissions, REF panels and latest HEFCE guidance.

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