Update on HEFCE’s REF Open Access Policy

Alcohol needed
Librarians reach for alcohol after changes to HEFCE’s OA Policy for the next REF

You may have heard a great collective sigh of despair last week (followed by the clink of gin bottles) as Research Librarians across the UK reacted to HEFCE’s “policy adjustments and qualifications” to the Open Access (OA) policy for the next REF. In most universities across Britain there has been a big effort to make researchers aware of these new and complex open access requirements. Many felt that getting the message out has not been helped by the message being altered – slightly – and the resulting publicity. However, HEFCE are aiming to ease the burden on universities: having reviewed progress across UK institutions in implementing their OA policy, they have now responded to the challenges identified with “flexibility”.

So what has changed for researchers/authors?

  • Timeframe for making outputs OA:
    • BEFORE: the original policy required all eligible outputs to be uploaded into RIS and made open access within 3 months of acceptance for publication (with some allowance for embargo periods). This was due to start on 1 April 2016.
    • NOW: between 1 April 2016 and 1 April 2017, researchers can upload the output to RIS within 3 months of publication. So this essentially gives researchers a temporarily longer period to comply. How long will depend on the time between an article being accepted for publication and its actual publication which will vary greatly between journals and disciplines. As this is only a temporary arrangement (to be reviewed in Autumn 2016), we are still going to be advocating acting within 3 months of acceptance as this remains the core of the HEFCE policy.
  • Gold Open Access
    • BEFORE: even when publishing via the “Gold” (paid-for) open access route, researchers still had to upload the accepted version of a paper as a minimum within 3 months of acceptance (or the final published version if that was available).
    • NOW: this is still strongly encouraged but depositing gold open access papers is now an exception to the policy “where depositing the output on acceptance is not felt to deliver significant additional benefit”.
  • Compliance
    • BEFORE: zero tolerance of failure to adhere to the Open Access policy and those outputs would be ruled out of the REF unless they had claimed an exception.
    • NOW: “we will therefore be tolerant of occasional failures where institutions have made best endeavours towards achieving full compliance”. They are considering a period of grace to allow any missed outputs to comply “likely to be three months after the end of the REF publication period”.

The spirit of the original policy has not changed and the “Swansea University Open Access Policy” still adheres to the principle of deposit being required within 3 months of acceptance. We have updated our resources but the “In a Nutshell” section on our guidance document remains unchanged:

  • The date of acceptance for publication is the critical point for an author to act.
  • Details of your publication (as much as you know at that point) should be entered into RIS and published to Cronfa
  • The “author accepted manuscript” / “final peer-reviewed manuscript” / “post-print” should be uploaded to RIS and published to Cronfa, respecting any copyright conditions imposed by the publisher (e.g. embargo periods).
  • Ensure the full publication details are completed when these are known.
  • The policy applies to journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN but credit will be given for “enabling open access” for all outputs.

As always, we can help at any point if you have questions or concerns: iss-research@swansea.ac.uk

Swansea University’s OA Guidance sheet (PDF) and guide to using RIS (PDF).

Revisiting the “Versions Toolkit” for open access concerns

The Versions Toolkit Cover“Versions Toolkit” PDF here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/versions/VERSIONS_Toolkit_v1_final.pdf

The 2008 Versions Toolkit from the LSE / JISC project is a handy piece of work that deserves re-promoting in light of the HEFCE REF Open Access policy (amongst others) which puts new emphasis on the “Accepted Version” of a paper. At 20 pages, the toolkit may seem weighty for its overriding message of “be organized and keep all your versions” but there are some excellent points inside that address concerns we have been hearing from researchers at our recent Open Access briefings:


The Problem of Losing Citations
Some staff have concerns about losing citations to their work if it exists in multiple versions in multiple places, for example an “accepted version” in institutional repositories (Cronfa, in our case) and the published version. The Versions Toolkit (p.9) points out that:
  • In their survey, over 70% academics stated that they would “cite the published version only, even though I have read the earlier version”.
  • An institutional repository will contain a link and full details of the published version, making it easy to cite the final version.
  • You can include a request “Please do not cite” in any earlier versions made available or indicate your preferred citation on the front page (p.11)
The Problem of Co-Authors
Some researchers have also mentioned the potential difficulties of having access to the “Accepted Version” if they are not the lead or corresponding author for an article. Others pointed out this will mean a need for improved communications and sharing, right from the start of co-authoring. The Versions Toolkit also puts this more strongly:
“When working with co-authors, protect your rights by requesting a copy of the final Accepted Version from the lead or corresponding author, so that you have access to your own work (p.10).”
The Problem of the Accepted Version Looking a Bit Scrappy
The Versions Toolkit (p.10) points out that if someone is looking to read your work, finding a free open version is their primary concern:
“For such readers it will be a huge benefit to be able to have access to the content of the paper at all, even if it is not the fully polished published version”
Notes could also be added to the beginning of the document to indicate any major variations or changes that occurred subsequently.

What about smaller publishers?
The Sherpa Romeo website is the “go-to” resource for information on what publishers allow you to do with your work. However, it does not include all publishers. The Toolkit notes:
“When negotiating with your publisher, if they do not have a policy on open access, point them to the ROMEO website. It will help you to explain what you are asking for and should encourage smaller publishers to develop a policy” (p.13)
What are the options when signing away your copyright?
Most publishers get authors to sign a Standard Copyright Transfer Agreement, thereby transferring copyright to the Publisher. The Toolkit points out there are ways of mitigating this, either by negotiating an author addendum reserving certain rights or an alternative “licence to publish” (p.12). There is guidance and sample wordings for these that authors can use.

Why bother with Open Access?
There are many, many arguments for Open Access but the Toolkit (p.10) puts it nicely in a nutshell:
“You have a community of readers made up of those researchers in your field who happen to have access to your book or a subscription to the journal. The decision for you at this stage is whether to make your work available to a wider readership”
As librarians, we frequently deal with requests from students and staff to access material for which the university does not hold a subscription. Increasingly, I advise them to check Google/Google Scholar for an archived version to see if there is a free version available. This is also supported by the recent report by Ithaka which studies how researchers research and the barriers to access that need to be minimized to “streamline access to scholarly resources”.

The Toolkit also has much useful advice on managing versions of documents and what to keep, working out what you can do with different versions, the pros and cons of methods of dissemination. Worth a read to familiarize yourself with the issues and opportunities!

Recent developments in open access

A report from an Open Access Event  Bournemouth  7th May 2014 #BUOA2014

Benefits of open Access / Alma Swan – Director of Advocacy for SPARC Europe and director of DOAJ

Alma felt that in the last 6 months to a year, the “indifferent majority” is beginning to wake up to open access, partly due to the HEFCE policy announcement of open access requirements for the next REF. It is important that it is peer reviewed literature which is made open access to avoid losing quality control and becoming vanity publishing. Open access should be immediate, free to use and free of restrictions to be ideal. She was pleased to see that scholarly communication is starting to change as she felt that the internet should have made more difference in this area before.

Individual authors gain visibility, usage, impact and a better personal profile from using open access. She gave examples – a philosophy lecturer “Self-archiving in the PhilSci Archive has given instant world-wide visibility to my work. As a result, I was invited to submit papers to refereed international conferences / journals and got them accepted”.

Prof. Martin Skitmore from the School of Urban Design, QUT, Australia “There is no doubt in my mind that ePrints wil have improved things – especially in developing countries such as Malaysia — many more access my papers who wouldn’t have thought of contacting me personally in the “old” days.  While this may … increase…citations, the most important thing…is that at least these people can find out more about what others have done”. Alma stressed that article use from repositories is usually from people who do not have access to the journal and is therefore a new audience. Alma looked at an example of the University of Liege, one of the most successful repositories and showed the increase in use of their papers.


HEFCEs Open Access Consultation and REF2020 / Ben Johnson – Policy adviser, HEFCE

Ben reminded us that open access is a global movement and mentioned that two other countries are considering adopting the HEFCE policy. He pointed out that it is enabled by new technology and by the “gift culture” of academia where academics are giving their work for free. Cost of journals is a driver but also new technology such as text mining to cope with the huge amount of information available. The top priority for open access is to allow people to read articles which are currently behind paywalls but allowing reuse and text mining is also an aim.

The aim of the HEFCE policy is to significantly increase the uptake of open access options, to protect author choice as much as possible and to stimulate the deposit of work in repositories. The core principle of the policy is “Outputs submitted to a post-2014 REF should be “open access”.”

The policy has minimum requirements but will also give extra credit for institutions who go further than necessary. The minimum requirements are that:

  • The final peer-reviewed draft of a paper must be deposited in the repository on acceptance.
  • The repository record must be discoverable asap.
  • The full text must be accessible asap (or once an embargo has elapsed – They are keeping to the RCUK embargo periods for simplicity though hope they will come down in time.).

It applies to all journal articles and most conference proceedings, although not those published within book series.

96% of work submitted to the last REF could have been made open access under existing publisher policies so that will be the target for the next REF. A 4% margin will be allowed for publishers with a longer embargo or other exceptions – a reason will have to be given with the REF submission but they intend to be “light touch” and not require too much burdensome evidence to back up the exception.

The policy will not apply to data, images, books, creative works etc. However, credit will be given to universities who go beyond requirements, perhaps by including these things, by allowing reuse and liberal licences where possible. The policy starts in 2016 but credit may be given for starting early.


It was noted that people have personal feelings about their work which have to be treated sensitively. Some academics in the audience did not like the most liberal licences as they wanted people to ask them to use their work. One academic noted that when he has completed a paper he just wanted to get rid of it and didn’t want to mess around submitting it to a repository although he accepted that he should – probably a common feeling!

Behavioural change is needed which is difficult but the HEFCE presenter felt that the full engagement of authors is vital and that technical solutions alone are not the answer.

One participant suggested that journals will sometimes accept a licence to publish instead of an author signing a copyright agreement – even Elsevier had done this when pushed although they used their own wording so it is worth talking to publishers about their terms – an example licence to publish from JISC.

The importance of adding keywords to repositories and using terminology which people are likely to search for in search engines was mentioned.

Note that full text can be added to the Swansea repository Cronfa via the Research Information System. Contact your subject librarian if you need help.


REF 2014 – Panel criteria and working methods – Jan 2012

Available from the HEFCE website, this document sets out the assessment criteria and working methods of the main and sub-panels for the 2014 Research.

Revisions have been made in the light of the consultation exercise (‘Consultation on draft panel criteria and working methods’ ). Amendments to the guidelines that were published in ‘Assessment framework and guidance on submissions‘ (REF 02.2011) are set out in Part 1, paragraphs 43, 44 and 64-91 and supersede the relevant paragraphs of REF 02.2011.

Full details…

Postgraduate research funding 2012/13 – HEFCE consultation

THES article today discusses the possible implications of this consultation document. HEFCE are looking at the distribution of funding given to support the costs of supervision. The aim of these proposals is:

to link the allocation of RDP supervision funding to quality, meeting HEFCE’s aim of supporting the supervision of students in higher-quality research environments.

THES article – Binary creep spotted in research funding plans
HEFCE consultation document – Consultation on allocation method for postgraduate research funding from 2012-13

REF Panel Members Announced

Announcement on HEFCE website 21 Feb 2011

The REF team on behalf of the four UK funding bodies today announced the membership of the expert panels for the REF 2014.

Membership of the panels comprises a balance of academic subject experts and those with expertise in the use or contribution of research more widely, as well as members with an international perspective on the main panels.

Further members are still to be appointed by the four funding bodies to a small number of panels. An updated membership list will be published when the process is complete.

The full list of main panel and sub-panel chairs was announced earlier this year.

The REF team will now work with the chairs and members of the panels during 2011 to develop the criteria for the assessment in 2014.

Development of bibliometric indicators for the REF – HEFCE

HEFCE have published  “Analysis of data from the pilot exercise to develop bibliometric indicators for the REF – The effect of using normalised citation scores for particular staff characteristics”

The report analyses the data from the pilot exercise to develop bibliometric indicators for the REF. It analyses the effect of using bibliometrics  (citation scores) in the REF upon  certain types of research staff. For example, early career researchers will be less likely to have many citations. It also looks at age and sex, gender, ethnicity, disability of researchers as well as those who are part-time staff.

The report recommends:

 If citation data are used then the four UK higher education funding bodies will need to ensure that institutions planning to make submissions to the REF are aware of the results of this analysis so that they can take them into account when selecting staff for inclusion. Further, panels will also need to account for the differences found and will require guidance as part of their equality briefing.