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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Open access in the next Research Excellence Framework: policy adjustments and qualifications

1. In March 2014, the UK HE funding bodies announced a new policy for open access (OA) in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). The policy has received wide support from the research community, and institutions are now fully engaged in implementing this in time for the start date (1 April 2016). Work undertaken so far by institutions has revealed a number of challenges around implementation of the policy, which we are now responding to. These challenges invite flexibility; this letter sets out details of a number of adjustments and qualifications to the policy that we believe will support institutions to make meaningful progress towards delivering open access in a sensible and realistic manner. The policy documentation has been updated to reflect these adjustments and qualifications.

Timing of deposit

2. The OA policy requires that outputs be deposited on acceptance for publication. We recognise that for institutions to manage this deposit-on-acceptance requirement in a cost-effective manner, new information systems are needed (and in particular new information flows from publishers to institutions at the acceptance stage). To allow additional time for these systems to be developed and implemented in institutions’ workflows, we have decided to delay the introduction of the deposit-on-acceptance requirement until 1 April 2017.

3. The policy now states that outputs accepted from 1 April 2016 onwards can be deposited in a repository at any point between acceptance and up to three months after the date of publication.1 We plan that outputs accepted from 1 April 2017 onwards would have to be deposited within three months of acceptance; however we will review the readiness of systems with the sector in autumn 2016 and take a view about whether the one-year delay has been sufficient to allow for systems to be developed and embedded. 

Gold open-access outputs

4. We further recognise that many papers will be published as ‘gold’ open access, and will therefore be available as the final published version-of-record2. We believe that there are significant benefits to the deposit of gold OA outputs – repositories support the effective preservation, aggregation and text-mining of research material. However, we recognise that when publishing as gold OA, authors typically prefer to deposit the final published version instead of the accepted manuscript, and that in some cases this will not be available within three months of acceptance. In light of this, we have decided to introduce an exception to the deposit requirements for outputs published via the gold route. This may be used in cases where depositing the output on acceptance is not felt to deliver significant additional benefit. We would strongly encourage these outputs to be deposited as soon as possible after publication, ideally via automated arrangements, but this will not be a requirement of the policy. 

Compliance and audit

5. We expect the majority of outputs that can be made open access to be done so. However we understand that communicating and implementing this policy will take time and we will therefore be tolerant of occasional failures where institutions have made best endeavours towards achieving full compliance. In support of this, we are considering setting a firm and final date by which all relevant outputs must have met the deposit requirements in order to be eligible for submission to the next REF (likely to be three months after the end of the REF publication period). If introduced, this would give an opportunity for institutions to make any inadvertently non-compliant outputs available as open access within the spirit of the policy. Audits by the REF team will allow for legitimate human error or oversight, and will take account of how the varied mix of disciplines across institutions can affect progress. Numbers of exceptions claimed within a submission will not affect the REF results.

Environment statements

6. We recognise that the transition to open access within institutions depends on wider environmental factors as well as individual efforts. We will expect institutions to include a short description in each submission on progress towards delivering open access, including their overall approach to open access strategy and infrastructure. We further recognise that institutions want clarity on our policy statements on delivering open access to a wider range of outputs than those covered by the minimum requirements: we are committed to providing further details about this in due course, but we want to assure institutions that we consider it reasonable for them to take a proportional view of the costs and benefits of making other types of outputs (including monographs) available as open access. 

SHERPA services

7. With other stakeholders, the community continues to make good progress toward delivering the shared services that underpin cost-effective and efficient open access, including those offered by SHERPA. It is our expectation that institutions should feel comfortable acting on the information provided by those services in meeting our open access requirements. In order to comply with our policy, we do not expect institutions to undertake additional work to verify the information provided by SHERPA

Further areas for work

8. We note that a few additional areas of uncertainty remain, including around systems interoperability, measures to support compliance in subject repositories, and the expectations around staff movement between institutions. To address these, we will be working with others over the coming months on common approaches and issuing further guidance for institutions via our policy FAQs where appropriate.

9. Further information is available from Ben Johnson (0117 931 7038, Our OA policy guide can be found at

Yours sincerely

David Sweeney

Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange


1. ‘Date of publication’ means 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.

2. Gold open access means the immediate and permanent availability of the published version of record, usually on the publisher’s website and with a licence that permits copying and reuse.

3. Read the updated policy document, HEFCE 2014/07.


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Date: 24 July 2015

Ref: Circular letter 20/2015

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland Heads of HEFCW-funded higher education institutions Heads of SFC-funded institutions

Enquiries should be directed to:

Ben Johnson, tel 0117 931 7038 email