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Open Access: REF and the UKRI Open Access policy

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

The REF and how to ensure eligibility

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the UK’s system for assessing the excellence of research in UK higher education providers (HEPs).

During March 2021 we successfully completed our REF2021 submission. We are now in the REF2027 cycle. 

REF Assessment Criteria  

Each submission is assessed against three elements: 

  • The quality of outputs (e.g. are they an exhibition, performance or publication?) 

  • The impact of outputs beyond academia 

  • 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.

Eligibility Criteria for the next REF

It will be some time before the eligibility criteria for REF 2027 are officially announced.  UKRI are currently undertaking the Future of Research Assessment Programme to explore possible approaches to the next national assessment exercise.  It is expected to conclude by late 2022.

Their guidance pages here specify:

“As the shape of a future research assessment exercise is yet to be determined, it is not feasible at this stage to define the specifics of a future open access policy. The funding bodies will make a decision about this policy through the Future Research Assessment Programme, based on:

  • consultation with the sector

  • an evaluation of open access in REF 2021

You should follow the REF 2021 open access policy and guidance until further notice.”

The REF 2021 guidance is as follows:

  1. Create a record in OARS upon acceptance for publication

  2. Upload your AAM to OARS within 3 months of acceptance

The author accepted manuscript (AAM), sometimes called the post-print (the version following peer-review, but prior to publisher formatting) must be made available in Open Access Repository Suffolk (OARS) within this timeframe for the output to be considered compliant

If you have paid for 'Gold' Open Access then the output will meet the criteria upon publication, but we still ask for these outputs to be added to OARS

The UKRI Open Access Policy

This is the current open access policy from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

The policy details the open access requirements for those with research outputs funded by UKRI.  While the future REF criteria are not yet known it is recognised that if you are funded by UKRI, also meeting their policy requirements will ensure compliance and eligibility for the next REF.

The Policy applies from the following dates: 

  • Research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022 

  • Monographs, book chapters and edited collections published on or after 1 January 2024

Research Articles

Research articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022 will need to be openly accessible on publication and without embargo.   

From 1 April 2022 there are two routes to compliance for research articles: 

  • Gold route:  Publication via an open access journal, with the final published version (also known as the version of record) made openly available via the publisher’s site, with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence applied (or other licence permitted by UKRI*) 

  • Green route:  Publication via a subscription journal, with the accepted version (or if the publisher permits, the final published version) made available via a repository (such as OARS) without embargo, and with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence applied (or other licence permitted by UKRI*) 

* While a CC BY licence is appropriate in most cases, UKRI may permit, on a case-by case basis, the use of a more restrictive Creative Commons Attribution No-derivatives (CC BY-ND) licence for the open access version of a research article 

The gold route is the easiest method for ensuring compliance with the policy.  This route would require the article processing charges (APCs) to be paid for via an external funder, an institutional fund, or via a transitional agreement.  Further information around APC funding can be found here

Long-form publications 

Information regarding the requirements around monographs/long-form publications will be added in due course.  In the short term (while not a current requirement) it may still be possible to add the full-text of these to OARS.  Please contact David Upson-dale for assistance. 

Rights Retention

If your research is funded by UKRI and you are required to follow the green (subscription journal) route it is important to note that some publishers will ask you to apply an embargo on the article (these are typically 6 - 24 mouths).  Doing so would make the article non-compliant with the policy, and ineligible for future REF submission. 

However, Increasingly publishers are introducing their own guidance and policies as a way to work around this issue and help authors abide by the UKRI requirements.  With this in mind it is important to check their guidance as early as possible so any required statements are suitably applied, and any request for specific CC licence types are undertaken.


Where the information from publishers is less-clear UKRI offer general guidance to aid you in abiding by their policy when following the green route to open access.  UKRI advise you to be open and transparent, making publishers aware of your open access needs upon submission.  They specify that you should apply a CC BY licence and that you should add the following text in the funding acknowledgement section of the manuscript and any cover letter/note accompanying the submission: 

For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence (where permitted by UKRI, ‘Open Government Licence’ or ‘Creative Commons Attribution No-derivatives (CC BY ND) licence’ may be stated instead) to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising. 

This statement will inform publishers of your intentions and will allow them to make an informed decision regarding acceptance of your article.  If the article is accepted, you should then be free to bypass the embargo period and add the article to OARS without embargo.  This would ensure compliance with the policy and future REF eligibility.  This should also be made clear in any agreements you may have with the publisher, so be sure to check these carefully. 

Data access statement

The UKRI policy also requires in-scope research articles to include a Data Access Statement (even where there are no data associated with the article or the data are inaccessible).  This informs readers where the underlying research materials associated with a paper are available, and how the research materials can be accessed. The statement can include links to the dataset, where applicable and appropriate. 

Typically a data access statement should include: 

  • Where the data can be accessed (preferably a data repository) 

  • A persistent identifier, such as a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) or accession number, or a link to a permanent record for the dataset 

  • Details of any restrictions on accessing the data and a justifiable explanation (e.g. for ethical, legal or commercial reasons) 

Some examples of data access statements are below: 

  • “Data supporting this study are openly available from (name of repository) at (DOI, accession number or URL)” 

  • “Data supporting this study are included within the article and/or supporting materials” 

  • “Data supporting this study cannot be made available due to (give reasons why the data cannot be shared)” 

Or, where there is no data associated with the research: 

  • “No new data were generated or analysed during this study” 

Further information is available here (please see page 10 of the policy)

This policy requirement from UKRI is based around The Concordat for Open Research Data.  Our institutional version is available here


All research outputs may be eligible for REF submission, including monographs, chapters, art installations. However, the open access criteria is only applied to journal articles and papers published with an ISSN and to Monograph/long-form outputs.
The REF 2021 guidance stated that all staff with significant responsibility for research would be eligible to submit outputs for the REF. Staff who fall within scope may be classed as either Category A eligible or Category A submitted.
Category A eligible staff are defined 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 are 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.
While we expect it to closely follow the previous guidance, the REF 2027 eligibility criteria is yet to be announced, but will be detailed here when available.
Sherpa Romeo is a searchable database of journals open access requirements.
Sherpa Juliet is a searchable database of research funders and their open access requirements.
The previous guidance indicated that if you published papers at another institution which met the criteria of REF2021, they could be claimed by both the originating institution and the new institution. This is referred to as the 'portability' of outputs. (while not yet confirmed) It is likely that this guidance will remain for the next REF, so 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 often set by publishers, and while these are currently permitted in line with the previous REF guidance (and will applied on your behalf when our team finalises your OARS deposit), if your research is funded by UKRI, you must abide by their policy guidance: The policy states that outputs following the Green route to OA should be self-deposited in an open access repository without embargo. The guidance above provides information on how to retain rights when publishing via the green route, in order to comply with the OA policy, and ensure REF eligibility.
It may be possible to apply exceptions when making OARS deposits. This means that some outputs may still be eligible for REF submission even if certain other requirements have not been met (usually if inhibited by restrictions outside of the author’s control) but these will be explored on a case-by-case basis.
Not currently. While it is likely to inform the compliance requirements for the next REF the policy currently provides guidance specifically for those with research outputs funded by UKRI.
Each funder will have their own licence requirements which can be checked via the Sherpa Romeo tool. If your research is funded by UKRI policy states that a CC BY licence should be applied to articles. They may also permit, on a case-by case basis, the use of a more restrictive Creative Commons Attribution No-derivatives (CC BY ND) licence for the open access version of a research article.
Visit the REF website for information on submissions, REF panels and the latest guidance.

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