Softening of line on Open Access-only REF

Non-OA journals acceptable only when they are “the most appropriate publication”

Articles published in journals that do not comply with the UK funding bodies’ stated open access policy will still be eligible for the next research excellence framework, it has been announced.

Earlier versions of the policy, which was consulted on last year, would have required all articles and conference proceedings submitted to the next REF to be made open access within certain embargo periods.

It was suggested that exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis, or else universities could be required to meet a flat 70 per cent compliance rate.

The final version of the policy, published on 31 March, states that, wherever possible, authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts must be made freely available in an institutional or subject repository within Research Councils UK’s stated embargo limits of 12 months for science articles and 24 months for others (falling to half that length after a five-year transition period).

However, REF-compliant authors will still be permitted to publish in journals that do not permit open access within those periods provided the journal is “the most appropriate publication for the output”.

In such cases, the papers must merely be made open access “as soon as possible”.

Some journals, particularly in the humanities, have complained that complying with RCUK embargoes would see them lose subscribers and imperil their viability.

However, journals that do not comply with those embargo limits will continue to be unavailable to research council-funded authors.

Exceptions to the funding bodies’ policy will also be made for technical or practical reasons, such as where authors are unable to obtain permission for the open publication of elements within their articles, such as images of museum exhibits.

However, authors will still be required to submit metadata about their papers, such as title and author, to a repository within three months of acceptance for publication.

The policy also states that credit will be given in the research environment section of the REF when an institution has “taken steps” to make open access outputs that fall outside the current scope of the open access policy, such as data and monographs.

Credit will also be given where papers are presented in a form that allows text-mining.

The policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016, but the funding bodies “strongly urge institutions to implement it now”.

David Sweeney, director for research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said the policy would “increase substantially” the amount of open access material available.

“Ultimately, the success of this policy, and others like it, will depend on the continued efforts of all stakeholders … to engage constructively in pursuit of a common goal: wider, faster and freer access to the findings of research,” he said.

David Price, vice-provost for research at University College London, said requiring open access for REF eligibility was a “game changer”. 

“The successful implementation of this policy will be challenging but has the potential to open up the very best UK research to a global audience and to increase the visibility of UK universities on a world stage,” he said.

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