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Journal articles and conference proceedings submitted to REF2021 must be made available on an Open Access basis.

The four main UK higher education funding bodies, including the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), have recently announced their policy for open access in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

HEFCE Circular letter 07/2014

In summary, certain outputs submittted to the next REF must be made available on an Open Access basis.

What outputs are affected?

  • Journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).
  • The output is accepted for publication after 1 April 2016

The policy does not apply to monographs or other long form publications, to non-text outputs, research data, conference proceedings published with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), or publications that must remain confidential for security or commercial reasons.

Open Access criteria

What? Where? When? Version?
Journal article or Conference Proceeding needs to be deposited in an institutional repository (PURE) no later than 3 months after the date of acceptance needs to be the 'final author version' or 'post-print' which can be replaced with the final published PDF version at a later date (if the publisher allows).

Embargo periods

Any embargo periods imposed by journal publishers must not exceed the following lengths:

  • 12 months for REF Main Panels A and B (approximately relates to the Colleges of Science & Engineering and Medicine & Veterinary Medicine)
  • 24 months for REF Main Panels C and D (approximately relates to the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science)

Outputs still under embargo can be selected for the next REF provided that the date of first publication is still within the REF reporting period.

Version to use

Use the final draft author manuscript, as accepted for publication, including modifications based on referees' suggestions but before it has undergone copyediting and proof correction. This is sometimes known as the Post-print, Author Version, or Personal Copy. It is important to have the correct version of the file to upload - the publisher's PDF is generally not OK to upload


There are a limited number of situations where an output may be exempt from the open access policy, which fall under the headings deposit, access and technical exceptions. We expect that such cases will be extremely rare. The Scholarly Communications Team can provide advice on this if you have concerns.

Any output that falls within the scope of this policy and is submitted to the REF2021 but does not meet the requirements without a valid exception will be given an unclassified score and will not be assessed.

Open Access support details

Scholarly Communications Team

Contact details



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  • You can book a one-to one video consultation with an expert from our team. If you want to find out more about open access (journals, funding, policies etc ), Copyright & Intellectual Property, General publishing activities (request an ISBN or DOI), or research metrics (using Web Of Science or Scopus) please contact our team via email to book a session at a time that suits you.