New data reveal widespread variation between UK universities’ readiness for the research excellence framework’s open access requirements.
Under the rules for the 2021 REF, all journal articles and conference proceedings must be made openly and freely available if they are to be submitted to the assessment.
A survey of 113 higher education institutions conducted by Research England, the Wellcome Trust, Jisc and the former Research Councils UK found that the majority of outputs (61 per cent) published in the year leading up to April 2017 had met these requirements by being placed in an open-access depository. A further 20 per cent were exempted from the depository requirement, for example, by being published in “gold” open-access format, while 19 per cent would not have been eligible for REF submission.
However, there was significant variation in institutional performance, according to a report published on 14 June. At three providers, more than 43 per cent of outputs would not have been eligible. The proportion of outputs meeting the depository requirements ranged from 100 per cent to 32 per cent.
There was also variation in compliance by discipline. Outputs covered by the REF’s “main panel A” – medicine, health and life sciences – had the lowest level of compliance with depository requirements (54 per cent), but also the highest percentage of outputs that had an exception (24 per cent), reflecting the widespread use of gold open access in these fields.
Compliance with depository requirements was highest in the social sciences (73 per cent) and arts and humanities (70 per cent), but in both panels only about 12 per cent of outputs had an exception, reflecting lower use of gold open access.
Not all of the outputs surveyed would necessarily be chosen for submission to the REF. For the 2021 exercise, departments must enter between one and five publications per academic who has “significant responsibility for research”, with an average of 2.5 outputs for each full-time equivalent researcher. Outputs must be placed in an open-access depository within three months of acceptance or, alternatively, within three months of publication.
David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England, said he was “pleased to see the progress” made by institutions in implementing REF open access policies.
Some institutions had been slower to adopt open access policies, but most had successfully encouraged widespread participation, he added.
The survey also reveals that universities have had significant difficulties ensuring that conference proceedings meet the REF’s open access policy.
Other findings shed light on how the article processing charges associated with gold open access publishing are funded: in 71 per cent of cases, the funding came from Research Councils UK or health research charities, such as the Wellcome Trust, that support open access.
The survey also reveals that UK universities are employing the full-time equivalent of 335 staff to support and implement open access policies.