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Library Research Support: Open Research: REF 2021 Open Access FAQs

This guide is intended to provide advice and support on open access research, including guidance around Durham Research Online (DRO), open access publishing, research data management and related topics.

REF 2021 FAQs

What are the requirements of the policy?

The full requirements of the policy can be found in PARA 223 to 255 of the REF Guidance on Submissions. All outputs listed in REF2 for a submission, and in scope of the policy, must:

  • Deposit: Have been deposited in an open access repository no later than 3 months after the date the output was accepted for publication. (PARA 235-240)
  • Discovery: Be discoverable by readers, and by automated tools (e.g. search engines), from the repository. (PARA 241-242)
  • Access: Be free to read, download and search within the text without charge from that repository. The timing of when this requirement is met can respect an embargo, if required by the publisher (PARA 243-251):
    • For outputs submitted to the REF under Main Panels A or B, this embargo can be no longer than 12 months.
    • For outputs submitted to the REF under Main Panels C or D, this embargo can be no longer than 24 months.
    • Where a publisher does not require any embargo on access, the output must meet the access requirements no later than one month after deposit. 

What do I need to do with my article to meet the requirements?

Act on acceptance, and deposit your Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) in DRO via the Staff Profile system. This will ensure compliance with the REF Open Access policy, and the University’s Open Access Policy.

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.

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

What should I do before submitting a manuscript to a journal?

In line with Durham University's Open Access Policy, and our guidance on publication planning, authors should carefully consider the most appropriate journal in which to publish their research. This consideration should include consideration of what options the journal provides to authors to make their research open access, and any requirements of the funder(s) of that research.

For REF, this should include considering what is the embargo period the journal requires (if any) for any manuscript deposited in an open access repository, before it can be made publicly available.

  • For outputs submitted to the REF under Main Panels A or B, this embargo can be no longer than 12 months.
  • For outputs submitted to the REF under Main Panels C or D, this embargo can be no longer than 24 months.

How can I find out about a specific journal’s open access options?

Before submitting to a journal you should check and consider what your options are for green and/or gold open access and whether these options comply with the open access policies of REF, the University and your funder.

If you want advice on whether a particular journal will meet the REF requirements for your discipline, do contact the Library at 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.

What does the REF Open Access policy apply to?

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. The REF's research environment component (REF5) will consider evidence of how a Unit of Assessment is working towards an open research environment, including increasing access to outputs outside the scope of the policy.

Does this policy apply to articles published in professional journals, or journals which do not require peer review?

PARA 228 of the REF Guidance on Submissions confirms that:

Outputs that are published by a journal or conference proceedings which do not require peer review are within the scope of this policy. In this instance, the author’s final accepted version must be deposited. The date of acceptance in this instance should be taken as the date that the publisher confirms that the article has been received from the author and will subsequently be published.

Are articles accepted for publication prior to 1 April 2016 now ineligible for submission to the next REF?

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 within the scope of the open access policy and so are not required to meet its requirements.

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.

Can only journal articles and conference proceedings now be submitted as outputs for the next REF?

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. The REF's research environment component (REF5) will consider evidence of how a Unit of Assessment is working towards an open research environment, including increasing access to outputs outside the scope of the policy.

What is meant by the Author Accepted Manuscript?

The Author Accepted Manuscript (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 by the journal
  • 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.

REF: Accepted Manuscript

What is meant by the 'Date of Acceptance'?

Research England define the 'Date of Acceptance' as meaning:

[PARA 227] "The date given in the acceptance letter or email from the publisher to the author as the ‘firm’ accepted date."


This is 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.

I do not have a clear acceptance date?

We recognise that in some disciplines, the acceptance date may not be clear. Where a 'date of acceptance' is unknown, or unclear, the author should endeavour to deposit their manuscript which incorporates changes resulting from peer review in Durham Research Online (DRO) at the earliest opportunity.

If later revisions are made to the manuscript, a 'revised manuscript' may also be added to the record:

  • Where the original accepted manuscript has been deposited, but is not yet accessible, DRO can keep the original manuscript permanently embargoed and only provide access to the revised version if this is preferred.
  • Where the original accepted manuscript has been deposited and is already accessible (e.g. where a journal requires no embargo and allows access from the date of acceptance), both files will be available from DRO.
    • Note that for the purposes of REF, where a journal has no embargo, a file must be accessible from the repository no later than one month after the original deposit.

Will my co-author allow me to deposit the manuscript of our article?

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 252b 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

My article has been published in a fully open access journal. Does that meet the requirements?

All outputs should be deposited in Durham Research Online (DRO) within 3 months of the Date of Acceptance, in line with Durham University Open Access Policy.

‘Gold’ open access usually means the immediate, permanent, and free to access availability of the published version of record on the publisher’s website and with a licence that permits copying and reuse.

Research England have confirmed that:

[PARA 239] "Outputs that are made open access through the ‘gold’ route, at the point of first publication, in accordance with other funder’s requirements and definitions, meet the requirement of the REF 2021 open access policy."


However, it is a requirement on the university to be able to confirm that outputs were available immediately after publication via the gold route, were not made open access after publication, and meet all other requirements of re-use.

My article has been made free to access by the publisher. Does that meet the requirements?

Some journals may make an article "free" to access for various reasons. 

However, this often does not meet the recognised definitions of open access and will not meet the REF requirements. A journal may withdraw the 'free' access at anytime, and continuing access and re-use permissions are not guaranteed. It is important that an article is accompanied by a clear use of an open access licence, indicating re-use permissions are granted for the article.

Is there a list of acceptable subject repositories?

No. Research England 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.

Will depositing my paper in arXiv meet the REF requirements?

The arXiv (and other pre-print servers, such as bioRxivdo 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.

Additional FAQs covering Open Access, and all aspects of REF, provided by Research England can be found here.

If the answer to your question is not on these pages or on the Research England list, please email


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