HEFCE Consultation on Open Access post-REF

Open Access promomaterial by biblioteekje CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Both myself and Ruth Hattam recently attended events organised by HEFCE focussing on the recent consultation paper around Open Access (OA) in the post-2014 REF.  The principle behind the proposals is that outputs submitted for the next REF submission (likely to be around 2020) should be open access.

Definitions first

For a publication to be classed as OA according to the criteria proposed by HEFCE, it must:

  • be accessible through an institutional repository immediately upon either acceptance or publication (to be decided as part of the consultation);
  • be the final peer-reviewed text (though not necessarily identical to the publisher’s edited and formatted version); and
  • be presented in a form allowing the reader to search for and re-use content subject to proper attribution.

HEFCE acknowledges the challenges around these proposals, and the system is designed to move towards the principle of full OA. As such, the proposal is that only journal articles and conference proceedings will be expected to comply with OA for the next REF, and that the OA criteria will only apply two years after the date of the policy announcement (i.e. from 2016).

The proposals as they stand mean that outputs which are retrospectively made to comply with the above definition of OA would not be eligible for submission to the REF. There were various issues raised at the consultation events about how this principle might work in cases where staff move institutions, bringing outputs with them. Delegates noted that this would effectively demand an extra administrative step on recruitment to check that outputs published while at the previous institution complied with REF OA guidelines.

Targets and exceptions

HEFCE propose that exceptions to the policy will be permitted, and one of the consultation questions is whether this should be on a case-by-case basis, a set percentage (70% is the suggestion) across an institutional submission, or whether targets are varied on a panel basis to take account of subject differences.

The audience from a variety of HEIs was broadly in favour of the open access proposal, in fact, some felt the proposal did not go far enough in progressing an open access approach.  One view was that tolerating up to 30% non-compliance could be seen as a way for institutions/academics to circumvent the OA principle.

The case-by-case approach was seen as potentially bureaucratic, however, and there was some difficulty in establishing the sort of circumstances that would qualify as an ‘exception’.  At this stage, HEFCE felt unable to expect 100% compliance without raising serious questions about academic freedom.

Publish or perish?

Publishers (and their ever-changing policies on OA) came in for some criticism, but the HEFCE panel was keen to stress that they see the publishing industry as part of the solution rather than the problem. One suggestion was that HEFCE and other funders invest in the SHERPA RoMEO/FACT service to ensure a robust and accurate information service which has capacity to keep track of the shifting publisher OA policies. It was further noted in this context that the issues around monographs were currently too complex to try and tackle in a meaningful way for the post-2014 REF.

Concerns were raised about the additional costs of supporting OA. The HEFCE panel view was that costs did not have to be a major issue if institutions developed policies that allowed for both green and gold OA. The suggestion was that the HEFCE REF guidelines should be viewed as a minimum standard.

Resource requests

The use of institutional repositories would clearly be key in the proposed changes, but the additional resources required to ensure that repositories were used most effectively was seen as an issue.  For instance, the implications of embargoes on outputs was seen as something that would be difficult to monitor, particularly as there was no standard approach among publishers and the parameters were constantly changing.  If publishers extended their embargoes beyond the RCUK recommendations (which were likely to be adopted by HEFCE) then it would be up to an institution whether to choose to pay gold OA fees in order to have outputs available to the REF submission.

Other discussion covered the potential for OA to form part of the REF5 narrative, and it was noted that further consideration needed to be given to the penalties if institutions missed OA targets. HEFCE commented that it was unlikely that OA constraints would be placed on research that supported impact.  There was a strong argument for consistency as far as possible between and across panels.

Comments please!

Anyone who wishes to read the full consultation document from HEFCE can access it at the following link:


If any member of Northumbria staff wishes to comment on any of the seven questions (in Appendix A of the document) please send views to me (email: david.g.young@northumbria.ac.uk) by 18th October 2013.


HEFCE Seeks Advice on Post-2014 REF Open Access Proposals

Open Access by AJ Cann CC BY-NC-SA 2.0HEFCE (alongside the other three UK HE funding bodies) is inviting responses and advice on its proposals for open-access publication in the next research assessment cycle (i.e. after the 2014 REF – this consultation will have no bearing on the current REF).

HEFCE: Open Access and submissions to the REF post-2014 [PDF]

The proposals re-state the importance of open access publication in the future higher education policy landscape, however they do not express any preference for gold vs. green OA and essentially propose to leave it up to individual institutions to decide which of these routes is preferable.

The three key criteria for open access are:

  1. deposited in the author’s own institutional repository immediately upon publication, although the repository may provide access in a way that respects agreed embargos;
  2. made available as the final peer reviewed text, though not necessarily identical to the publisher’s edited and formatted version; and
  3. presented in a form allowing the reader to search for and re-use content (including by download and for text-mining) both manually and using automated tools, provided such re-use is subject to proper attribution under appropriate licensing

They are looking for advice and comments specifically on the following issues:

  • The expectations for open access publication, as set out in the three criteria above
  • Repository use and techniques for institutional repositories to cross-refer to subject and other repositories
  • Embargoes and licensing as these issues relate to open access publication
  • Exceptions to the above principles, and how to handle them
  • The issue of monographs and whether these should be exempt from OA requirements
  • The issue of open data, which is not expected to be made a requirement for the next REF

The deadline for responding to this consultation is 25th March 2013. The details of how to respond are given in the open letter.


REF Impact Guide for Research Users

The REF team at HEFCE has produced a short summary of the REF and specifically of research impact, for research users outside academia.  This document can be used to help explain the REF process to organisations you may need to call on to provide evidence to support impact case studies – it outlines the REF process and the timing of when researchers might be asking for supporting evidence.  This document can be found at http://www.ref.ac.uk/users/

At the same time, HEFCE has issued an open call for nominations of research users to be assessors on the REF expert panels.   Nominations can be made using an online form, which you can find here.  The closing date for nominations is midday on Wednesday 5th December 2012.



In case there weren’t enough acronyms in the title for you, HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) have published answers to a new set of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on the REF (Research Excellence Framework. They’re available here:


The updates include information on the definition of “independent research” for early career researchers; how to determine whether maternity and paternity leave falls substantially within the REF period; and information required for patents and patent applications, among other topics.