Open Access and the REF

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 outputs accepted between 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 REF 2021 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.



In cases where it is not possible to meet the open access requirements, the REF open access policy allows for a number of exceptions.

The REF policy lists a number of reasons why an exception may be granted, including reasons why an output could not be deposited to a repository at all, reasons why the output could not be made available as open access through the repository, or technical issues which prevented the output from meeting the requirements.

The reference numbers included in the lists of exceptions below indicate the relevant point within the REF Guidance on submissions (2019/01) document.

Deposit exceptions

The following exceptions deal with cases where the output is unable to meet the deposit requirements. In the following cases, the output will not be required to meet any of the open access criteria (deposit, discovery or access requirements).

  • At the point of acceptance, it was not possible to secure the use of a repository (252a)
  • There was a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (for instance, where a paper has multiple authors) (252b)
  • The staff member to whom the output is attributed was not employed on a Category A eligible contract by a UK HEI (defined in paragraphs 52 to 63) at the time of submission for publication (252c)
  • It would be unlawful to deposit, or request the deposit of, the output (252d)
  • Depositing the output would present a security risk (252e)

Access exceptions

The following exceptions deal with cases where deposit of the output is possible, but there are issues to do with meeting the access requirements. In the following cases, the output will still be required to meet the deposit and discovery requirements, but not the access requirements. A closed-access deposit, where allowed, will be required.

  • 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) (253a)
  • The publication concerned requires an embargo period that exceeds the stated maxima*, and was the most appropriate publication for the output (253b)
  • The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output (253c)

*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 is unable to meet the criteria due to a technical issue. In the following cases, the output will not be required to meet the open access criteria (deposit, discovery or access requirements). 

  • At the point of acceptance, the staff member to whom the output is attributed was employed at a different UK HEI, and it has not been possible to determine compliance with the criteria (254a)
  • The repository experienced a short-term or transient technical failure that prevented compliance with the criteria (254b)
  • An external service provider failure prevented compliance (254c)

Further exceptions

Two further exceptions to the policy:

  • ‘Other exception’ should be used where an output is unable to meet the criteria due to circumstances beyond the control of the HEI, including extenuating personal circumstances of the author (such as periods of extended leave), industrial action, closure days, and software problems beyond those listed in the technical exceptions. If ‘other’ exception is selected, the output will not need to meet the open access criteria (deposit, discovery or access requirements) (255a)
  • The output was not deposited within three months of acceptance date, but was deposited within three months of the earliest date of publication. In this instance, the output will need to meet all other policy requirements. This exception does not need to be applied retrospectively to outputs compliant with the policy from 1 April 2016 to 1 April 2018 which fulfilled the policy requirements within three months of publication (255b)

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.

When should an exception be requested?

In some cases, exceptions will automatically be recorded by the Library and it is not necessary for any of the output’s authors to request an exception. This will be the case where:

  • The output was published as ‘gold’ open access.
  • The output was not deposited within three months of acceptance date, but was deposited within three months of the earliest date of publication.

In all other cases where an output is within the scope of the REF open access requirements but does not meet them the authors of the output should request an exception, following the steps below, as soon as possible once they become aware that an exception may be required.

Process for requesting an exception

1. For each output only one exception request should be submitted. For multiple-authored outputs, agreement should be reached between internal authors as to which author should submit the request.

2. Make sure the output has been recorded in PURE, and that the full date of acceptance (year, month, and day) has been recorded on the PURE record. Take a note of the PURE Id for the relevant record (this will be a numerical identifier shown at the top-left of the PURE record).

Please do not use the REF2020 exception field in PURE to record exceptions. This will be completed for you by Library staff once the exceptions has been approved.

4. Open the online REF Open Access Exception Request Form and add your details and the details of the output (including the PURE Id).

5. In the Details section request form, use the drop-down list to indicate the exception that you consider applies to the output. This indication may be overridden by the Chair of Departmental Research Committee at a later stage.

6. Provide a full descriptive explanation for the circumstances leading to the exception request. Confidential information should not be submitted via the request form.

The Chair of Departmental Research Committee will be asked to approve the request and will contact you if they need any further details.

Approved requests will be signed off by the relevant Associate Dean for Research.

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.

Further information on the REF

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