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Durham University

Research and Innovation Services

REF2021 Open Access FAQs

All journal articles, and papers published in a conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), which are accepted for publication on or after the 1st April 2016.

The policy does not cover proceedings published as a book, with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). However, Durham's policy is that outputs of all types should be deposited in DRO. Extra REF credit will be given in the research environment component for working towards open access for outputs outside the scope of the policy.

On acceptance deposit the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) in DRO via the Staff Profile system.

Deposit in DRO is easy

  • Create a Staff Profile record for your output
  • Attach the AAM to the record and label it as accepted, including the date of acceptance
  • ONLY attach the published version if your copyright agreement with the publisher permits OR an Article Processing Charge (APC) has been paid for Gold open access

Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAMs) must be deposited in either an institutional or subject repository as soon as possible after the date of acceptance, and no later than 3 months after this date.

In order to ensure compliance with the HEFCE policy and the University’s Open Access Policy, you should deposit your AAM in DRO within this timeframe.

DRO Team members will check each individual copyright agreement for any embargo details and, if necessary, close-off access to the deposited paper until the embargo expires.

Where there is an embargo, papers must be available no later than 1 month after the following HEFCE-specified maximum embargo periods:

  • 12 months for REF Panels A and B
  • 24 months for REF Panels C and D

The AAM, sometimes referred to as the 'final author version', 'final author manuscript', or ‘final manuscript’ is the version of your work which:

  • has been accepted for publication
  • has been peer-reviewed
  • but has not yet gone through typsetting and layout by the publisher

Often the AAM is a Word version of your publication. Most publishers will allow the AAM to be deposited in an institutional or subject repository, subject to an embargo period. Note that the final published PDF (the version that appears on the publishers website, sometimes called the 'version of record') cannot usually be deposited in DRO, unless an article processing charge (APC) has been paid for Gold open access.

HEFCE: article versions in scholarly publishing

HEFCE: article versions in scholarly publishing

HEFCE define the date of acceptance as the point at which the author is notified that:

  • their output has been reviewed by the journal or conference (normally via peer review)
  • all academically necessary changes have been made in response to that review
  • the article is ready to be taken through the final steps toward publication (normally copy-editing and typesetting).

By this point, the paper should have been updated to include all changes resulting from peer review as well as any changes of an academic nature requested by the journal editor or conference organiser.

The image in the "What is meant by the Author Accepted Manuscript?" FAQ may also provide additional clarification.

Some researchers are concerned that they may have difficulty getting hold of the accepted manuscript version of their paper to deposit in Durham Research Online (DRO) where they are not corresponding author. This is more likely in an environment where the corresponding author is based overseas and unfamiliar with the funder requirements for Open Access in the UK.

Please note: Open Access is not a UK initiative alone, and whilst the REF policy is specific to the UK HE sector, the use of open access journals and repositories is not unique to the UK. Globally, there are almost 1,000 policies registered with Roarmaps, only 120 of which are for the UK; Many of these are registered by universities which provide their own open access repository.

Authors should consider the advice received by Durham by Research England in May 2018, which is outlined below with context:

The REF Open Access policy specifies a number of ‘exceptions’ to the REF Open Access requirements; circumstances affecting the ability of an author to deposit their manuscript in their repository on time (or at all) and make it open access within the embargo deadline. Exception 38b states: The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF experienced a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (for instance, where a paper has multiple authors).

If this exception is to be used, the following questions should be considered and you will need to preserve evidence (emails) as to why the chosen exception route was suitable, until the end of 2021 to satisfy REF audit requirements:

  • Was the co-author contacted?
  • Was the co-author informed that a suitable embargo would be in place before the deposited manuscript would be made open access?
  • If the publisher permits, was the co-author informed that the AAM could be augmented with the final version of record at a later date?

Further information on the use of exceptions will be presented with the forthcoming guidance due in summer 2018:

We have provided below some suggested text that researchers can use to send their co-authors to explain what they are intending to do, or to request a copy of the manuscript for deposit in DRO.

Authors are encouraged to engage with co-authors at the earliest opportunity to explain the expectations, and identify any concerns or issues which may be addressed in advance of needing to meet deadlines for the REF.

Any questions from Durham researchers or their co-authors should be directed to dro.admin@dur.ac.uk.


The text below can be adapted by author’s as appropriate when communicating with co-authors

My University, in common with a number of major research funding organisations (including Research England (formerly the Higher Education Funding Council of England), the publicly-funded UK Research Councils and a number of biomedical charities ) has an Open Access policy with which I am required to comply. It is an expectation in the UK that research is made publicly available in compliance with the journal’s policy on copyright, self-archiving and author rights. However, these policies also require that copyright agreements with publishers are honoured. This includes abiding by any requirements of the publisher about the version of the article that can be shared, and any embargo period that the publisher applies to this being made accessible.

In order to comply with this expectation, please could you provide me with a copy of the final, accepted manuscript for our co-authored article (incorporating any changes resulting from peer-review), which I am expected to deposit in our institutional repository, Durham Research Online (DRO). I am expected to deposit this manuscript within 3 months of the date of acceptance for publication.

To reiterate, this manuscript will only be made accessible from DRO in compliance with the requirements of the publisher, including respecting any embargo required by said publisher.

If you have any questions or wish to contact my colleagues who looks after the repository, you can email them at dro.admin@durham.ac.uk, or further information can be found at https://www.dur.ac.uk/library/repositories/depositors/policies/.

Yours sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]


No. HEFCE has not provided a list of acceptable subject repositories and not all will meet the metadata requirements of the policy. You can ensure compliance by depositing your Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) into the Staff Profile System for transferral into DRO by the Repository Team.

ResearchGate, Academia, and Sci-Hub are not subject repositories and would not meet the requirements of the policy.

arXiv (and other pre-print servers) and REF Open Access requirements

The arXiv (and other pre-print servers, such as bioRxiv) do not meet the technical and audit requirements of the REF open access policy. This is because the REF policy requires researchers to deposit their final accepted manuscript within 3 months of its acceptance for publication. But arXiv offers no standardised means of recording either:

  • the version of paper deposited in their archive
  • the date when the publisher accepted the manuscript for publication

The guidance on on submissions published in 2019 finalised details on where use of arXiv and similar services could be used to meet the open access requirements:

238. The funding bodies recognise that many researchers derive value from sharing early versions of papers using a pre-print service. Institutions may submit pre-prints as eligible outputs to REF 2021 (see Annex K). Only outputs which have been ‘accepted for publication’ (such as a journal article or conference contribution with an ISSN) are within the scope of the REF 2021 open access policy. To take into account that the policy intent for ‘open access’ is met where a pre-print version is the same as the author-accepted manuscript, we have introduced additional flexibility into the open access requirement: if the ‘accepted for publication’ text, or near final version, is available on the pre-print service, and the output upload date of the pre-print is prior to the date of output publication, this will be considered as compliant with the open access criteria (deposit, discovery, and access). REF Guidance on Submissions 2019/01

Guidance for authors and REF leads

To be certain an output to be included as part of a UoA's REF submission, an author must be certain (and be able to confirm to their REF lead in their UoA) that:

  • Which file uploaded to the pre-print server is the version of the 'accepted for publication' manuscript or near final version (incorporating changes from peer review) (e.g. v1, v2)
  • Ensure that this has been uploaded to the service prior to the date of publication of the output in a journal or conference proceeding.

If the above criteria have been met, authors can still continue to use arXiv as you would normally, and comply with the REF requirements by:

  • ensuring the above criteria have been met
  • creating a Staff Profile record describing your article (required to suggest for inclusion in REF database) and enter:
    • the date when you deposited the required version of the manuscript in arXiv
    • the arXiv URL of the required version of the manuscript.

The DRO Team will then transfer a copy of the Profile record to DRO, check the copyright agreement to ensure deposit of your manuscript in DRO is permitted, and then deposit the file and apply any embargo stipulated in the agreement. This will ensure deposit well within 3 months of acceptance as is mandated by HEFCE's policy.

Following this guidance will mean that you not only comply with the REF requirements, but also Durham's open access policy, and possibly also that of your research funder.


No. The Open Access policy only covers outputs accepted for publication from 1 April 2016.

This does not mean that outputs accepted before this date cannot be submitted; they are just not defined within the scope of the policy.

You are advised, however, to ensure that all relevant research outputs are deposited into the Staff Profile System and that the acceptance date is added to the records.

No. Outputs other than articles and conference proceedings are still eligible for submission to the next REF. The Open Access policy does not apply to outputs such as monographs and other long-form publications, non-text outputs, and data that underpins some research. Therefore, these types of output do not have to be made Open Access.

However, Durham's policy is that outputs of all types should be deposited in DRO. Extra REF credit will be given in the research environment component for working towards open access for outputs outside the scope of the policy.

Whilst the majority of publications submitted to the REF are likely to be articles published in peer-reviewed journals, in some disciplines there will be instances where this is not the case.

HEFCE's "Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework" [Paragraph 19, Footnote 5] does clarify that:

Outputs that are published by a journal or conference that does not require peer review are within the scope of this policy; in this instance, we would require the author’s final accepted version.

Before submitting to a journal you may wish to find out what your options are for green and/or gold open access and whether these options comply with the open access policies of HEFCE and your funder.

Sherpa offers a couple of online services that you may wish to use – Sherpa Romeo and Sherpa FACT. To use this accurately you will need to have some awareness of what the policy requirements are. Alternatively, you can contact the Library using the form below and you will receive a response from a member of the Open Access team. Please provide as much information as possible so that you receive information that is relevant to your particular needs.

Form: enquire about a journal's open access options

You will also find some useful FAQs available on the HEFCE REF2021 site (archived)

If you have any additional questions not listed here, please contact the Library.