Open Access and the REF

In April 2014, the four UK higher education funding bodies announced a new policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Key criteria

To be eligible for submission to REF 2021, the outputs specified below must be deposited in an open access repository:

  • Journal articles (including conference papers published as part of proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)) and which are accepted for publication after 1st April 2016.

The following deposit requirements apply:

  • The output must be deposited as soon after point of acceptance as possible, and no later than 3 months after this date [extended to 3 months after date of publication for 1 April 2016 - 1 April 2018 only]
  • The output should be deposited as the accepted manuscript [the final published version can be used where permitted and if available within the required timeframe]

Deposit now and be REF ready

To ensure that your articles are eligible for REF 2021, deposit your author accepted manuscript into PURE within the appropriate timescale. See the step-by-step guide to deposit your research or login to PURE now.


Outputs within the scope of the REF policy

The requirement to comply with the policy only applies to particular outputs as described under Key criteria above.

HEFCE's FAQ 2.4 (updated August 2016) provides additional guidance on conference proceedings and journals with only an ISBN:

  • Conferences that publish online-only, journal-like series of proceedings (typically in the sciences) are intended to be within scope
  • Outputs with both an ISSN (for the series) and an ISBN (for individual issues) published in a venue with a compliant self-archiving policy should meet the open access requirements. Where this is not possible, this should be recorded as an "other" exception
  • Ouputs published in journals with an ISBN are within scope.

Outputs outside the scope of the REF policy

This policy does not affect the following which will still be eligible for submission to REF:

  • journal articles or conference proceedings accepted for publication before 1 April 2016
  • monographs, book chapters, or other output types
  • conference proceedings published with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or as part of a book series
  • output types that are delivered confidentially for security or commercial reasons

The REF policy does, however, suggest that credit will be given in the research environment component of the post-2014 REF where a HEI can demonstrate that it has taken steps towards enabling open access for outputs outside scope.

Note: The University's own Policy on the Publication of Research also makes requirements in terms of the deposit of published research outputs.

Date of acceptance/publication

What is meant by date of acceptance?

The HEFCE FAQs on deposit on acceptance define the date of acceptance as 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 date of acceptance, 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.

See also Version for deposit.

Recording date of acceptance

The complete date of acceptance must be recorded, including year, month and day. For guidance on how to do this within PURE see Deposit your research.

What is meant by date of publication?

The HECFE policy defines date of publication as the earliest date that the final version-of-record is made available on the publisher's website. This generally means that the "early online" date, rather than the print publication date, should be taken as the date of publication.

Version for deposit

Version for deposit

It is important that the correct version of a manuscript is deposited in PURE. This is normally the accepted manuscript as described below. This may be augmented with an updated peer-reviewed manuscript.

Most publishers will not allow the final published version to be deposited (see Journal policies and Article versions for more information). If, however, this is permitted and is available within the required timeframe, then the final published version may be deposited instead of, or in addition to, the accepted manuscript.

Author accepted manuscript

It is the author's accepted and final peer-reviewed text, otherwise known as "accepted manuscript", "accepted author manuscript",  "author accepted manuscript" (AAM), "final author version" or "post-print" that is normally required for deposit into PURE.

The HEFCE FAQs on deposit on acceptance illustrate the versions of manuscripts using the following diagram:

Date of acceptance diagram

The author's final, accepted manuscript is the one that has been agreed with the editor at point of acceptance.

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.

Accepted manuscripts do not typically contain the subsequent non-academic alterations arising from copyediting and typesetting, nor do they typically show the journal page numbers and other publication livery (eg publisher's logo) present in the published version of record. For many people wishing to access research findings, however, accepted manuscripts do represent an academically sound version of the output.

Updated peer-reviewed manuscript

The policy allows the augmentation of the author accepted manuscript by what HEFCE have termed an "updated peer-reviewed manuscript". For example, authors may make minor changes to the manuscript following acceptance (possibly as a result of copy-editing, as figures become finalised, or as rights to third-party material become secured). These changes, however, should not result from peer review.

This means that in some cases authors may add an updated manuscript to PURE. Please note that the original accepted manuscript version should not be removed from the PURE record as this will be associated with the recorded date of deposit.



The REF open access policy allows for a number of exceptions to the requirements. These exceptions cover circumstances where deposit was not possible, where open access to deposited material could not be achieved within the policy requirements, or where an output was unable to meet the criteria due to a technical issue. A full list of the exceptions allowed is given below.

University exceptions procedure

The exceptions procedure at York is academic-led. Chairs of Departmental Research Committees will approve exceptions within their departments with final sign-off from the appropriate Associate Dean (Research). An audit log of evidence to support exceptions is maintained. Oversight of this log is undertaken by the Research Strategy and Policy Office. Exceptions are recorded in PURE by Library staff following sign-off.

Information for authors

University of York authors should request an exception via the online REF Open Access Exception Request form. Please note the following before completing the form:

  • If a paper has more than one internal author, agreement should be reached as to which author submits the request - multiple requests should not be submitted for the same paper
  • The form should only be completed after a paper has been recorded in PURE
  • The PURE record must include the complete date of acceptance (year, month and day)
  • The Id of the relevant record in PURE is required (copy and paste from the top-left of the record display in PURE)
  • The form asks the author to indicate which exception from the list below they consider applies. This indication may be subsequently overridden by the Chair of Departmental Research Committee
  • The form also asks the author to provide a full descriptive explanation of the circumstances leading to the exception request. This supporting information is important as it contributes to the University's audit log for exceptions. Confidential information should not be submitted via the form
  • Authors should not set the REF2020 exception option in PURE - this will be completed by Library staff following sign-off.

Exceptions allowed by the Policy

The reference numbers included in the lists of exceptions below indicate the relevant point within the REF policy document. Further information is available within the HEFCE FAQs on exceptions.

Deposit exceptions

The following exceptions deal with cases where the output was unable to meet the deposit requirements or where the output is made open access via another route.

  • The author was unable to secure the use of the repository at point of acceptance (38a)
  • There was a delay in securing the author's final peer reviewed manuscript (for instance, where the paper has multiple authors) (38b)
  • The author was not employed by a UK HEI at the time of submission for publication (38c)
  • It would be unlawful to deposit the output (38d)
  • Depositing the output would present a security risk (38e)
  • From 1 April 2018: The output was not deposited within three months of acceptance date, but was deposited within three months of the earliest date of publication
An exception (38f) is also available for authors publishing via the "gold" open access route. As the University Policy on the Publication of Research requires the deposit of papers in PURE this exception should not normally apply to York authors. Note: For gold open access papers, it may be possible to deposit the final published version if this can be achieved within the required timeframe.

Access exceptions

The following exceptions apply where deposit is possible but the access requirements cannot be met. Access exceptions to the policy apply where:

  • The output depends on the reproduction of third party content for which open access rights could not be granted (39a)
  • The publication concerned requires an embargo period that exceeds the stated maxima*, and was the most appropriate publication for the output (39b)
  • The publication concerned disallows open access deposit, and was the most appropriate publication for the output (39c)

*Embargo periods should not exceed the following maxima:

  • 12 months for REF Main Panel A and REF Main Panel B
  • 24 months for REF Main Panel C and REF Main Panel D

Interdisciplinary research being submitted to Main Panel A or B that would also be admissible to Main Panel C or D may respect the longer of the two embargo periods.

See Journal policies for more information on embargo periods and related tools.

Note: In these cases, deposit should still be made into PURE. Library staff will ensure that the deposit will remain "closed" until open access requirements can be met.

Technical exceptions

The following exceptions deal with cases where an output was not able to meet the criteria due to a technical issue:

  • At point of acceptance, the author was at a different HEI which failed to comply with the criteria (40a)
  • The repository experienced a short-term technical failure that prevented compliance (40b)
  • An external service failure prevented compliance (40c)

Note: In these cases, the expectation is that the criteria are met retroactivity as soon as possible, for example, by deposit into PURE.

Other exceptions

In very exceptional cases, it may not be possible for an output to meet the requirements for a reason not covered by the exceptions above (41). A short written explanation will be required.

Further information

Further information on the policy

For full details of the open access policy for REF 2021 please visit the HEFCE website. A separate document listing Information and audit requirements is available.

The HEFCE FAQs provide a valuable source of additional information. See also the Open access policy for the next REF section of the Open Access FAQs.

Background to the policy

The four UK HE funding bodies (HEFCE, HEFCW, SFC, DELNI) believe that the outputs of research should be disseminated as widely and freely as possible. Open access research is seen as bringing substantial benefits to researchers, students, institutions, governments, public bodies, professionals and practitioners, citizen scientists and many others. Open access makes research more efficient and impactful.  For these reasons, in April 2014 they introduced a new policy for open access in relation to research assessments after the 2014 REF.

In July 2015, a number of policy adjustments and qualifications were announced. To allow additional time for supporting systems to be developed, the deposit on acceptance requirement was delayed until 1 April 2017. This period of flexibilty was further extended by the policy update issued in November 2016. As a result, during the first two years of the policy (1 April 2016 - 1 April 2018) outputs can be deposited up to three months after date of publication. The REF 2021 Decisions on staff and outputs document (November 2017) confirmed the implementation of the policy as previously set out (i.e. the policy will require outputs to be deposited as soon after point of acceptance as possible and no later than three months after this date) from 1 April 2018. A new deposit exception allowing outputs unable to meet this deposit timetable but deposited up to three months after the date of publication to remain compliant will be introduced from 1 April 2018.

Further information on the REF

Please contact the Research Strategy and Policy Office if you have any queries relating to the REF.