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.