Open access and the REF

After an exchange with one of the people employed by my university to “police” the institutional repository, I came upon an issue that I didn’t fully understand. If you are a UK academic hoping to submit papers to REF2020, you might want to know this.

The policy on open access comes into force on April Fools Day next year (2016). Your final peer-reviewed manuscript must be deposited in a publically accessible repository (which could be an institutional repository, or could be the arXiv) within three months of acceptance for publication. Acceptance is defined as the date on the letter or email from publisher to author informing that the paper is accepted. [The arXiv is the only subject repository specifically mentioned in the document.]

So what you must do in a year’s time, and what you should probably get into the habit of doing now, are two things:

  • post the final manuscript on the arXiv (or institutional repository);
  • keep a copy of the publisher’s acceptance letter where you will be able to find it in 2020.

It seems to me that this policy (which makes significant extra work for academics) has been designed by people with little idea about the academic publishing process. Even if your university has paid out the vast sum required for your paper to be published “gold open access”, you may still be in breach of this policy if the publisher took more than three months doing their job (not uncommon, even in high-status journals). (In fact, if it came to it, I doubt if HEFCE would refuse to accept a “gold open access” paper; it would be very bad PR for their whole open access policy if they did!)

And, while I am at it, let me state another reservation. The person I was in contact with told me that the university is not happy with the arXiv, and attempted to discourage me from using it, because “we don’t have the resources to be checking it for compliant articles”. (This despite the fact that they have four people policing their own repository!) So the knock-on effect of HEFCE policy as interpreted by universities is to put pressure on academics not to use the arXiv. In my view this is exactly the reverse of what they should be doing!

The HEFCE document on open access for the 2020 REF is here.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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8 Responses to Open access and the REF

  1. AGC says:

    I may be missing the point, but I don’t see why any action (or lack thereof) by the publisher would be a problem. Once one has received the acceptance letter the final peer-reviewed manuscript (ie the one you submitted) can be put up – it is not necessary to wait for the publishers to produce their reformated version.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, but it makes my question even more pointed: why bother paying for open access? You don’t even save yourself this hassle!

    • Martin says:

      Well, most green deposits will not be the final version of record. Going gold ensures that the final “value-added” version is available to all (both at the publisher and in the repository). This has merit in some disciplines (HSS primarily) where paper-centric citation norms to pages and print-correlative PDF versions are still the expected norm and citation of any other version is frowned upon (I know, archaic). It may also be that the deposited version of a non-gold paper is embargoed (up to 2 years in HSS). Having a gold version available will mean that immediate deposit is possible.

      Also, HEFCE’s intention may not be to save people (authors) the hassle, but rather to make deposit an ingrained part of the workflow; an expectation. This, in turn, will lead to cultural acceptance of OA, which should mitigate some of the many social resistances that we have seen over the last decade.

      • The last proofs I corrected (see earlier post), all the changes were putting right errors that the publisher had introduced! The previous arXiv version was more accurate than what the publisher proposed!

  3. Yemon Choi says:

    Also, HEFCE’s intention may not be to save people (authors) the hassle, but rather to make deposit an ingrained part of the workflow; an expectation. This, in turn, will lead to cultural acceptance of OA, which should mitigate some of the many social resistances that we have seen over the last decade.

    As someone who has been posting near-final versions on the arXiv for his whole mathematical career, who uses it and encourages people to use it, and who is now having to faff around downloading arXiv PDFs to stick on an instututional repository and worrying about CC-BY vs CC-BY-NC bvs CC-BY-ND

    … the text quoted above elicits a response from me that you’d normally get from Malcom Tucker and Jamie MacDonald. It is hard not to feel like those of us who have been disseminating things in the OA spirit for a long time, are now finding ourselves inconvenienced for not doing things the way some OA zealots from other disciplines with other mores would prefer — or more accurately, in ways suggested by outside agents which the OA zealots from other disciplines deem to be acceptable and hence to be encouraged.

    Aesop’s fable of the Sun and the Wind comes to mind, as do Mercutio’s parting lines.

    • Martin says:

      I think that’s a fair-enough response. High-energy physics and maths do well at OA. Some disciplines, though, are terrible. I know that’s not your problem, but the policy has to span all areas and without the rigidity of a formalised framework it would not have the behavioural changes desired.

      Some points:

      1.) If your institution isn’t allowing you to use arXiv to fulfil the requirements, that’s not HEFCE’s fault, it’s your institution being over-zealous. The policy explicitly allows arXiv: “a subject repository such as arXiv”.

      2.) There is no specific license requirement from HEFCE, only that readers be able to “search electronically within the text, read it and download it without charge”.

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