Layout print header[D]

REF: what you need to know


The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) undertakes a quality assessment of research conducted at UK universities every 5 or 6 years. This informs a league table of research excellence for institutions and individual Units of Assessment (similar to disciplines) as well as the allocation of public research funding to institutions. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 was the most recent quality assessment. For the next exercise, HEFCE have introduced an Open Access requirement.


In order to be eligible for the next REF, journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN number must be made available via an institutional or subject repository. This means that the author's final peer-reviewed manuscript (aka post-print)

  • must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository, where they are discoverable and free to read and download by anyone with an internet connection
  • must be deposited no later than three months after the point of acceptance for publication

This policy applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016. It does not apply to monographs, book chapters, other long-form publications, working papers, creative or practice-based research outputs, or data.

Date of acceptance and final peer-reviewed manuscript

The date of acceptance 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. At this stage, the journal editor or conference organiser normally notifies the author that their paper has been ‘firmly’ accepted (as opposed to any earlier point of ‘provisional’ acceptance e.g. conditional on major or minor revisions being made) and the paper is ready for copy-editing or typesetting; it is the date of this notification that should be taken to mean the date of acceptance.

The author’s final, accepted manuscript is the one that has been agreed with the editor at that point. The accepted manuscript not the same as the copy-edited, typeset or published paper — these versions are known as ‘proofs’ or ‘versions of record’ and publishers do not normally allow authors to make these open-access.

A note on conference proceedings

The date of acceptance for conference proceedings is not the date at which your contribution to the conference was accepted for presentation, but rather the date at which your fully authored research output was accepted for publication in the conference proceedings.

Embargo periods

If any research output has an embargo period, authors can comply with the policy by making a ‘closed’ deposit on acceptance. A 'closed' deposit is discoverable to anyone with an Internet connection before the full text becomes available for read and download (which will occur after the embargo period has elapsed). Closed deposits will be admissible to the REF. The length of an acceptable embargo period differs per Unit of Assessment:

  • panel A (health) 12 months
  • panel B (science, technology, engineering and math) 12 months
  • panel C (social sciences) 24 months
  • panel D (humanities) 24 months


In some cases it may not be possible to make your research output available via Open Access in time. HEFCE have defined a set of exceptions for those who are not in position to meet the OA requirements. HEFCE have indicated these will apply to a very small minority of publications. The exceptions are outlined in the HEFCE policy (paragraphs 35 to 39).

What you need to do

If you think an exception needs to be applied, please alert your Unit of Assessment Coordinator using the Proforma for exceptions to the HEFCE policy for open access (Word) to provide evidence for the exception. If your Coordinator agrees that an exception needs to be applied, they will communicate the evidence provided in the proforma to SHURA, where the evidence will be kept with the affected SHURA record.

You can find your Unit of Assessment Coordinator here.

Deposit exceptions

You may not need to deposit your work in the following 5 cases:

  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF was unable to secure the use of a repository at the point of acceptance.
  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF experienced a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (HEFCE say that this is "only likely where the paper has more than one author and the individual being submitted to the REF was not responsible for corresponding with the publisher")
  • The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF was not employed by a UK HEI at the time of submission for publication.
  • It would be unlawful to deposit the output.
  • Depositing the output would present a security risk.

Access exceptions

HEFCE does not require Open Access to the post-print within three months of the date of acceptance in the following three cases:

  • The output depends on the reproduction of third party content for which open access rights could not be granted (either within the specified timescales, or at all).
  • The publication concerned requires an embargo period that exceeds the stated maxima, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.
  • The publication concerned actively disallows open-access deposit in a repository, and was the most appropriate publication for the output.

Please note that in these cases HEFCE does require (1) a closed deposit within three months of the date of acceptance, and (2) that the output is made available via Open Access as soon as possible.

HEFCE policy:

Proforma: I want to apply an exception to the HEFCE policy for open access

Author actions

Within three months of acceptance

  • create a record in SHURA
  • deposit thefinal peer-reviewed manuscript in SHURA
  • forward the email with evidence of the date of acceptance from your publisher to

At the point of publication

  • if you are publishing your work as gold Open Access, add the publisher's version to your work in SHURA

Last updated: 24 October, 2016

Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Howard Street, Sheffield S1 1WB

Telephone 0114 225 5555 | Fax 0114 225 4449

Privacy Policy

Freedom of information




Legal information