Open Access requirements for the REF 2021

The REF 2021 publication period closed on 31 December 2020 but researchers should continue to comply with the requirements of the REF 2021 OA policy until further notice.

Research England will launch a consultation on the future REF OA policy following the outcome of the UKRI OA review. More information is forthcoming but please see the Research England Open Research page for more details. 


The basics

Non-compliant items will not be eligible for the next REF. The majority of outputs will be able to comply with the REF Open Access requirements as follows:

  • Check if your journal permits self-archiving of papers, and whether the embargo date is a maximum of 12 months (for REF panels A&B) or 24 months (for REF panels C&D)
  • Upload the accepted version of your article or conference paper to SRO as soon as it has been accepted.


How is Open Access defined in this policy?

The REF policy states that to be considered OA,  the output must allow anyone with internet access to search electronically within the text, read it and download it without charge, and must be discoverable to anyone with an internet connection, and to search engines.


What outputs does this cover?

The policy applies to outputs accepted after 1st April 2016. The policy applies to journal articles and published conference proceedings where the conference publishes 'online, journal-like series of proceedings (typically within the sciences)'. These typically have an ISSN. Conferences that publish books or book-like outputs (typically in the humanities) are not intended to be in scope of the policy, however we would encourage deposit of accepted manuscripts for these items as well.


How can an output comply?

To comply, the final peer-reviewed manuscript of all articles and conference proceedings must be deposited in an open access institutional or subject repository within 3 months of acceptance. This does not need to be the publisher's PDF which most publishers do not permit to be used in a repository. Authors should deposit their accepted version which is the version post peer review but before any copyediting or layout work has taken place. The accepted version is sometimes called the author's final version, AAM or post-print.


What are the permitted embargo periods?

Most publishers will allow the deposit of the author's accepted manuscript in repositories such as Sussex Research Online, but many will not allow the paper to be made freely available immediately and will impose an embargo period. The policy states that outputs must be deposited in a repository within 3 months of acceptance, but that they can be locked and made freely available to read after an embargo period of no more than 12 months (for REF panels A&B) and 24 months (for REF panels C&D).


Do I need to deposit in a repository if the article was published as Gold OA?

At Sussex we ask that you deposit your article in SRO via Elements even if it was published as Gold OA.


Is there any specific licence requirement?

The policy does not ask for a specific licence as long as the reader is able to read the output, to download it, and to search electronically within it, all without charge. Outputs licensed under CC BY-NC-ND (or more permissive) would meet these requirements.


What if the output doesn't comply?

In certain circumstances a paper can be submitted to the REF even though it does not comply with the REF Open Access Policy. Permitted exceptions are outlined on the Exceptions for the REF page alongside the action that authors need to take. It is always better to seek advice as early as possible in the process.


School policies

Global Studies Open Access Guidance November 2017 [PDF 99.39KB]


Further information

Read the UKRI / Research England Open Access Research document and the REF Guidance on submissions or their FAQs

Contact the Library Research Support team for support with Open Access questions and Sussex Research Online on 01273 877941 or

Find out more about Open Access