Open Access Research

'Open access' refers to unrestricted, online access to the published findings of research. In our role as a national funding body for research, we are committed to supporting successful approaches to open access publishing and increasing public access to research findings.

Open access

'Open access' 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 recently encouraged a move towards open access.

This has developed from a view that the freedom to access and use research outputs has considerable benefits for authors, researchers, funding bodies and the wider higher education sector.

This has led to discussion about how to make this happen and what effect it might have. But the principle of open access has wide support.

What is Research England’s position?

Open access is central to UK Research and Innovation’s ambitions for research and innovation in the UK. The UK Funding Bodies, including Research England, are committed to supporting successful approaches to open access publishing through the Research Excellence Framework. It is now a requirement that certain research outputs submitted to any research assessment exercise after 2014 be made as widely accessible as possible.

The REF policy aims to allow access to publically funded research freely, as soon as the available channels for dissemination will allow.

The UK Funding Bodies believe this will:

  • enable the prompt and widespread dissemination of research findings
  • benefit both the efficiency of the research process and economic growth driven by publicly funded research
  • increase public understanding of research.

Find out more

Survey on open access policies

logos for the former HEFCE, JISC, RCUK and Wellcome Trust

The former HEFCE and Research Councils UK (RCUK) 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 institutions about the extent HEIs are meeting the funder requirements, tools used by the sector, repository use, staff costs associated with open access, repository metadata, and licences.

The report is available here.

The four UK HE funding bodies have introduced a policy requirement on open access in REF 2021. It applies to journal articles and conference contributions (with an International Standard Serial Number) which are accepted for publication from 1 April 2016 and published on or before 31 December 2020.

The REF 2021 Guidance on submissions document published on 31 January 2019 contains the final open access policy for this research assessment exercise. The Guidance on submissions publication supersedes the previously published open access policy document, circular letter(s) regarding the policy, and the FAQs (all published as HEFCE documentation).

The REF 2021 open access policy is included in the following sections of the Guidance on submissions document. An open access guide will be produced by the REF team and published on the REF website.

  1. Paragraphs 105 – 114 REF2021 Open Access policy intent
  2. Paragraphs 223 – 255 REF2021 Open Access policy guidance

REF 2021 OA FAQ’s are published on the REF website under the section Open Access. HEFCE publications regarding the REF 2021 Open Access policy, including previous FAQs are available by request.

UK Research and Innovation are currently conducting a review of open access policies across the councils. The REF is jointly governed by the four UK Funding Bodies, and although the future REF open access policy is within scope of the UKRI open access review, and the two reviews will work closely together, the four UK Funding Bodies will make final decisions on the future policy for REF.

Working closely with colleagues within UKRI, the UK HE funding bodies will carry out a review of the REF open access policy for future exercises. A REF OA working group has been established to take this work forward.

The OA policy for the REF after next will build upon the evidence from UKRI OA consultation, with a view to carry out a separate, REF-specific consultation in the first quarter of 2020. The OA policy for the REF after next will be communicated following an analysis of the responses to the consultation.

We recognise that the four funding bodies will need to give due notice to the sector of any changes to its OA policy for the REF after next. Therefore, we anticipate that any changes to the REF OA policy will not come into effect on 1 January 2021 (i.e. the beginning of the next REF exercise). We ask the sector to work on the basis of continuation of existing REF 2021 policy at this stage. Notice given to the sector will be appropriate to, and reflective of, the requirements of policy implementation.

The OA policy for outputs submitted to the REF 2021 exercise will not change. In-scope journal articles and conference proceedings are required to comply with the current REF 2021 OA policy in order to be considered eligible for submission to REF 2021. Monographs are not in scope for the REF 2021 OA policy.

Open access and monographs

In planning an approach for open access and REF 2021, the UK HE funding bodies received very clear advice during consultation that the monograph publishing world was not yet at a stage where it could support an open access requirement. We have listened to this advice; monographs and other longer publications will not need to be made available in an open access form to be eligible for submission to the REF 2021.

However, we remain keen to understand the issues better and to support efforts to solve them wherever possible. We are optimistic about the potential for open access to sustain and enhance scholarly communications in the humanities and social sciences, and we are confident that open-access monograph publishing initiatives will continue to grow over the coming years.

In December 2016 the four UK Higher Education Funding Bodies signalled their intention to move towards a requirement for open access monographs in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) after next.1

As Geoffrey Crossick confirmed in his report ‘Monographs and open access’, monographs are a vitally important and distinctive vehicle for research communication in many disciplines, and must be sustained in any moves to open access. There are clear benefits to extending open access to books, but substantial complexities involved in doing so. The report recommended that funders develop policies to encourage moves towards open access for monographs, but also set out in detail the issues that would need to be tackled before open access monographs could become widespread.

The report concluded that:

  1. Open access offers both short and long-term advantages for monograph publication and use; many of these are bound up with a transition to digital publishing that has not been at the same speed as that for journals.
  2. There is no single dominant emerging business model for supporting open-access publishing of monographs; a range of approaches will coexist for some time and it is unlikely that any single model will emerge as dominant.
  3. Printed books will continue to be preferred for extensive reading and may form a part of many future business models; they will therefore continue to a considerable extent to be available alongside their open-access versions.

The report also highlighted particular challenges around the open licensing of monographs, the inclusion of third-party copyrighted material in monographs, and the technicalities of digital book publishing, all of which would need to be treated with appropriate flexibility in designing policies to encourage open access.

We do not intend to set out any detailed open-access policy requirements for monographs in a future REF exercise now. However, setting a direction of travel will allow academics, institutions, publishers and others to take appropriate steps. We see a clear need to develop some principles that can govern the introduction of a policy requirement in future.

Principles for a future policy on open access monographs

Despite open access for monographs being at an earlier stage than for journals, this is a rapidly developing area. There is a clear need for better ongoing monitoring of the various initiatives to ensure that progress can be gauged, policies coordinated, and opportunities seized.

  1. There are powerful and valid reasons why open access should be extended to monographs and other long-form publications. Open access has brought substantial benefits to scholarly communication in journals; within reason, and as far as is practical, it is right that other research outputs are required to take advantage of open-access options. We wish to see a gradual but definite move towards open access for monographs.
  2. There will be legitimate reasons why some monographs cannot be open access, and we will be flexible about the proportion of monographs submitted to a future exercise that will be expected to meet open-access requirements. Such reasons might include, but are not limited to: the lack of viable electronic or open-access publishing options for some monographs; problems created by significant dependence on the inclusion of copyrighted third-party material in the monograph; or a substantial dependence on royalty payments for sustaining an author’s research endeavours.
  3. In as far as is practicable, the version that is made open-access should be academically equivalent to the final published version of record. This will often mean that the open-access version reflects all academically necessary textual and presentational elements. However, policies should be flexible in allowing author manuscripts, deposited in a repository, to meet the requirements where the author is confident that these manuscripts reflect an academically correct version of the monograph.
  4. The monograph should at least be free to read, and ideally be licensed in a way that gives freedom to copy and reuse the published material. The community should move towards adopting more permissive licenses, such as the Creative Commons Attribution licence (‘CC BY’), when these are congruent with disciplinary norms and practices. More restrictive licences, such as the Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs (‘CC BY-NC-ND’), should be considered as acceptable alternatives for open-access monographs to allow norms and practices around more permissive licensing to evolve and be monitored.
  5. The monograph should be free to access in its entirety, ideally immediately on publication. Partial access would not be sufficient, and might put the academic integrity of the monograph at risk. Embargoed access should be the exception, not the norm, and should ideally apply only to author-driven open-access models, such as repository deposit.
  6. There should be no requirement that any one particular business model be used to deliver open-access monographs. The current models of open-access book publishing should be permitted, but we recognise that author-facing publishing charges are very high and cannot work at scale. Further experimentation is required to identify and develop business models that are cost-effective and scalable, paying due attention to the 38 need for the monograph publishing ecosystem to remain sustainable, innovative and diverse.
  7. Further work is needed to improve the academic acceptability and long-term accessibility of digital books. A print copy of the monograph should to a considerable extent continue to be available, even when the primary mode of dissemination is online open access, and further work is needed by publishers to deliver improvements in digital publishing technology.

HEFCE monographs and open access project

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.

The monographs and open access project report was published on 22 January 2015.

Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has led this work. Professor Crossick was formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of London and Warden of Goldsmiths.

The project was supported by an Expert Reference Group which helped to establish what evidence was needed to inform understanding in this area, and to shape an appropriate programme of work to gather this evidence.

The monographs and open access project: Report to HEFCE

The monographs and open access project report was published on 22 January 2015.


Expert Reference Group

The Expert Reference Group met for the first time on 4 November. The discussion paper and notes from the meeting are available below. We welcome comments on these, in particular where they draw our attention to any evidence we may need to be aware of when devising our programme of work.


Terms of Reference


Scoping and discussion paper


Notes of meeting 4 November 2013


Notes of meeting 2 May 2014

Further information

For further information on HEFCE’s monographs work, please contact Helen Snaith, tel 0117 931 7165, email