Open access research

'Open access' refers to unrestricted, online access to the published findings of research. It aims to make the findings of academic research available electronically, immediately, without charge and free from most copyright or licensing restrictions. Governments and research funders - nationally and internationally - have encouraged a move towards open access.

Research England is both a Council of UKRI, and one of the four UK HE funding bodies which deliver the UK-wide assessment of research, the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Research England's current position (REF 2021)

The four UK HE funding bodies, including Research England, introduced a policy requirement on open access in REF 2021. The open access policy for submitted outputs is available in the REF 2021 Guidance on Submissions document (paragraphs 105-114 and 223-255). A guidance document on the open access policy for REF 2021 is available on the REF 2021 website. All queries regarding the REF 2021 OA policy should be forwarded to

Future open access policy

UKRI Open Access Review

UKRI is reviewing its open access policies. A consultation on the proposed UKRI open access policy and related considerations has taken place. This consultation sought views and evidence on UKRI's proposed OA policy. Due to the impact of COVID-19 UKRI now intends to announce the new open access policy in the second quarter of 2021.

UKRI's review will determine a single OA policy across UKRI, including the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. It will cover peer-reviewed research articles and academic books that result from research supported by UKRI, which acknowledge funding from UKRI and its constituent councils.

UKRI encourages OA for all research outputs that result from UKRI funding. UKRI recognises that it is difficult to directly trace research outputs that result from unhypothecated block grant funding provided by Research England to English HE providers. Therefore, where block grant funding from Research England is the only UKRI funding acknowledged on an output, it will be exempt from the OA policy requirements.

Any queries about the UKRI OA Review and consultation should be sent to

UKRI OA Review and the REF-after-REF 2021

No changes to the OA policy will be made to outputs submitted to REF 2021.

The four UK funding bodies (who own and govern the REF) will develop an OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021 for research outputs submitted to future assessment exercises. In December 2016, the four UK HE Funding Bodies signalled their intention to move towards a requirement for open access monographs in the REF-after-REF 2021, in addition to other research outputs. Further information, including principles for a policy on open access monographs, is available at Annex C in the 'Consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework'.

The UKRI consultation included high-level questions to help inform the development of the OA policy for research outputs submitted to the UK-wide research assessment exercise following REF 2021 (REF-after-REF 2021). As far as possible, the funding bodies and UKRI are seeking policy commonality to aid compliance and promote OA. The intention is that compliance with UKRI's OA policy will result in compliance with the OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021.

Informed by the outcomes of the UKRI review, a REF-specific OA consultation will be launched later in 2021.

The UK HE funding bodies recognise that due notice will be needed prior to implementation of the OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021, which will be consulted on after UKRI's OA policy is announced. The OA policy for the REF-after-REF 2021 will not come into effect on 1 January 2021 (that is, at the beginning of the publication period for the REF-after-REF 2021 exercise). The REF 2021 OA policy should be followed until further notice.

Further information will be available on this webpage, following the conclusion of the UKRI OA review.


Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM)

In 2019, Research England awarded £2.2 million to COPIM from the Research England Development (RED) Fund, which supports innovation in research and knowledge exchange in higher education that offers significant public benefits. Led by Coventry University, COPIM aims to transform open access book publishing by moving away from a model of competing commercial operations to a more horizontal and cooperative, knowledge-sharing approach. This involves:

  • Improving and innovating in the infrastructures (business models, preservation structures, and governance procedures) being used by open access book publishers and by those publishers making a transition to open access books.
  • Enabling more productive collaborations between librarians, publishers, researchers and others involved in the open access landscape.
  • Expanding opportunities by creating open source toolkits to develop the skills necessary to run open access publishing operations.

For further information, see the COPIM news announcement.

Survey on open access progress

The former Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Research Councils UK worked in partnership with Jisc and the Wellcome Trust to enhance their understanding of how the higher education sector is meeting funders' open access policies. We commissioned Research Consulting to develop an appropriate and realistic survey which was conducted in late summer of 2017. We asked providers about the extent to which higher education providers are meeting the funder requirements, tools used by the sector, repository use, staff costs associated with open access, repository metadata, and licences. A number of questions were asked about the REF 2021 OA policy.

For more information, see the monitoring sector progress towards compliance with funder open access policies report.

The monographs and open access project: Report to HEFCE

In partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, the former HEFCE commissioned a project to investigate the issues and help identify potential ways forward for research funders, institutions, publishers and academics interested in open-access monographs. Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, led this work.

For more information, see the monographs and open access project report.