Softening of line on Open Access-only REF

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

March 31, 2014

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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Reader's comments (4)

For what it's worth my take (and I am a pro-Open Access hard-liner) is rather more positive than this. The THE article focusses on a single clause of the new HEFCE policy -- the admittedly weasely exception 37c, “The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.” — but overlooks the much more positive other 99% of the policy. My own analysis is more positive, despite several important reservations. Crucially, HEFCE is shifting the default toward open.
BTW., anyone interested in my analysis can find it at -- I included it as a link in my previous comment, but for some reason the THE software stripped it out.
IMMEDIATE FULL-TEXT DEPOSIT IS MANDATORY Paul, in writing t”hat 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" in order to make the article eligible for REF2020, you have missed the most fundamental feature of the new HEFCE policy! It is not just metadata that must be immediately deposited. It is the full-text of the article! The deposit need not be made open access immediately. It can be made closed access if the author wishes to comply with a publisher embargo on open access. But there are limits (set by HEFCE as well as RCUK and the EU Horizon 2020) on how long an OA embargo is allowed. There are two essential components to an effective Green OA mandate (i.e., one that generates as close to 100% compliance, as soon as possible): (1) It must uncouple the date of deposit from the date the deposit is made OA. It must require immediate deposit, with no exemptions or exceptions. How long an OA embargo it allows is a separate matter. On no account must date of deposit be allowed to be contingent on publisher OA embargoes. This is exactly what the HEFCE policy has done. (2) Eligibility for research assessment (and funding) must be made conditional on immediate-deposit (date-stamped by the journal acceptance letter). Again, this is in order to ensure that deposits are not made months or years after publication: no retrospective deposit The deposit requirement for eligibility for research assessment and funding is not itself an OA requirement, it is merely a procedural requirement: For eligibility, papers must be deposited in the institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication. Late deposits are not eligible for consideration. This engages the institution (always extremely anxious to comply fully with REF, HEFCE and RCUK eligibility rules) in ensuring that deposit is timely, with the help of the date-stamped acceptance letter throughout the entire 6-year REF cycle, 2014-2020. These two conditions are what have yielded the most effective of all the Green OA mandates to date in ROARMAP (well over 80% compliance rate and growing) at University of Liege and FRS-FNRS (the Belgian Francophone research funding council); other mandates are upgrading to this mandate model; Harvard FAS has already adopted immediate-deposit as one of its conditions. And now RCUK — thanks to HEFCE/REF — has the immediate-deposit condition as well. OA embargoes are another matter, and HEFCE/REF is wisely leaving that to others (RCUK, EU Horizon2020, and institutional mandates) to stipulate maximal allowable embargo length and any allowable exceptions. What HEFCE/REF is providing is the crucial two components for ensuring that the mandate will succeed: (1) immediate deposit as a (2) condition for REF-eligibility. But let me add something else that will become increasingly important, once the HEFCE/REF immediate-deposit requirement begins to propagate worldwide (as I am now confident it will: UK is at last back in the lead on OA again, instead of odd-man-out, as it has been since Finch): The immediate-deposit clause and the contingency on eligibility for research assessment and funding also ensures that the primary locus of deposit will be the institutional repository rather than institution-external repositories. (Deposits can be exported automatically to external repositories, once deposited and once the embargo has elapsed; they can also be imported from extrenal repositories, in the case of the physicists and mathematicians who have already been faithfully depositing in Arxiv for two decades,) But besides all that, many of the eprints and dspace institutional repositories already have — and, with the HEFCE mandate model propagating almost all of them will soon have the email-eprint-request Button: This Button makes it possible for users who reach a closed access deposit to click once to request a copy for research purposes; the repository software emails an automatic eprint request to the author, who can click once to comply with the request; the repository software emails the requestor the eprint. (Researchers have been requesting and sending reprints by mail — and lately by email — for decades, but with immediate-deposit and the Button, this is greatly accelerated and facilitated. So even during any allowable embargo period, the Button will enhance access and usage dramatically. I also predict that immediate-deposit and the Button will greatly hasten the inevitable and well-deserved demise of publisher OA embargoes.) Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the "Fair Dealing" Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.) Let me close by noting another important feature of the new HEFCE/REF policy: The allowable exceptions do not apply to the immediate-deposit requirement! They only apply to the allowable open-access embargo. To be eligible for REF2020, a paper must have been deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (with a 3-month grace period).
AND THERE IS NO LONGER ANY CONSTRAINT ON AUTHOR CHOICE OF JOURNAL HEFCE/REF is placing no constraint whatsoever on author choice of journal! On the contrary, the HEFCE/REF policy is remedying the constraint imposed by the Finch/RCUK preference for publishing in Gold OA journals. In fact, the policy is about, not about OA journals: Papers should continue to be published in the journal the author judges most appropriate for the work. But they must be (1) deposited immediately upon acceptance and (2) made OA immediately or at latest after the elapse of the interval allowed for complying with journal OA embargoes.

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