Open Access

Funder and REF Requirements for Open Access

Discover what researchers need to do in order to comply with funders' Open Access policies


What do funders want?

Encouraging impactful research is a key objective for funding bodies, as it means that they are getting value for money while also accelerating development in the sectors and disciplines of interest to them. As described in our guide on the basics of Open Access, being open can help to maximise the impact of research in various ways. Open Access has therefore become an increasingly important issue for many funders across the world.

In general, funders prefer research outputs to be as open as possible, as soon as possible. The Open Access policies of different funding bodies may vary in the specific details - for example, different output types may be affected, different open licences may be preferred, or different timescales may be involved.

In the rest of this guide, you will find a summary of the requirements for several key funding bodies for UK researchers. The details below include references to "Green" and "Gold" routes to Open Access, which are further described in our guide on the basics of Open Access. The details below also include references to open licences, which are explained in our Open Licensing guide. If you have any questions, please get in touch with the publications team at publications@rgu.ac.uk.


REF Requirements

What is the REF?

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national audit of the quality of research produced at institutions in the UK. As well as being a way of comparing research quality across universities, the results of the REF directly feed into the amount of money allocated to institutions by national bodies such as Research England and the Scottish Funding Council. More information is available on the REF website.

The current REF policy is focused on REF2021 (i.e. outputs created between 2014 and 2020), and it is expected that a different policy will eventually be applied to outputs for the next REF (i.e. outputs created between 2021 and the date of the REF-after-REF2021). However, the REF Team have advised that the REF2021 policy continues to apply for outputs created after the end of 2020, until such time as the new policy comes into effect. This guide will be updated once the new policy is available.

Outputs Affected

Journal articles and conference papers published with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), which were accepted for publication on or after the 1st April 2016. This includes research articles, review articles, systematic reviews, rapid communications, discussion papers and creative articles. It also includes any conference papers that are published in journals or book/proceedings series.

Route Preferred

No preference; both Gold and Green routes can be compliant.

Gold Requirements

The output must be published open access on the publisher's website immediately from the date of first online publication. No specific licence is required by the policy, but RGU considers an output to be compliant if it has been published under terms of use that are either equivalent to or more open than a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0).

Help with APCs

The REF Team do not provide any direct support for covering the costs of Gold Open Access. RGU recommends taking advantage of one of the university's offset deals (detailed in a separate guide), or relying on the Green route instead.

Green Requirements

The accepted manuscript must be deposited in a repository no later than three months from the date of acceptance. For outputs accepted between the 1st April 2016 and the 31st March 2018, this deadline is instead three months from the date of first online publication. RGU recommends contacting the Publications Team (publications@rgu.ac.uk) to deposit your outputs on OpenAIR, the university's repository.

For outputs submitted to REF Panel A or B (i.e. health, medicine, engineering and technology), any embargo on open access to the full text from the repository cannot exceed 12 months.

For outputs submitted to REF Panel C or D (i.e. social sciences, design and art), any embargo on open access to the full text from the repository cannot exceed 24 months.

The full text does not need to be made available under a specific licence, but it should enable the same level of use as a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0), as a minimum.

Some exceptions are available to help address certain cases where Green Open Access requirements cannot be met.

Other Requirements

The full-text file used for the purposes of Open Access must be machine-searchable. For example, this means that it should not be a flat image scan of a physical document; it should be possible to copy and paste text from the file.

Full Policy

The full policy details are located in the REF Team's "Guidance on Submissions" (last updated October 2020).


UKRI Requirements

What is UKRI?

United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a group of national research councils, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). UKRI also incorporates Research England, which is responsible for the REF (see above). UKRI represents a significant proportion of UK public funding for research. Further information is available on the UKRI website.

UKRI's Open Access policy is currently being revised, with the new policy likely to be published in 2021. Until the new policy is available, the requirements below continue to apply. This guide will be updated once the new policy is published.

Outputs Affected

Journal articles and conference papers submitted for publication on or after the 1st April 2013. This includes any peer-reviewed research articles and non-commissioned reviews. UKRI also encourage (but do not require) open access for other types of output.

Route Preferred

Gold route preferred, but the Green route can be compliant as well.

Gold Requirements

The output must be published open access on the publisher's website immediately from the date of first online publication. UKRI further state that the output must be published under a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0).

For outputs acknowledging funding from the MRC, the published version ("version of record" or "publisher PDF") must also be deposited on Europe PMC within six months of the date of first online publication. In most cases, publishers will do this automatically, but if they do not provide that service then authors can deposit their own papers using Europe PMC plus.

Help with APCs

UKRI provide financial support for covering the costs of Gold Open Access in the form of a block grant that is allocated to universities. RGU has received a small amount of this block grant for the financial year 2020-2021. Due to the small size of the fund, RGU recommends taking advantage of one of the university's offset deals (detailed in a separate guide), or relying on the Green route instead. More information about RGU's block grant and how to use it can be found in a separate guide.

Green Requirements

The accepted manuscript must be deposited in a repository no later than the end date of any publisher-imposed embargo. RGU recommends contacting the Publications Team (publications@rgu.ac.uk) to deposit your outputs on OpenAIR, the university's repository.

For outputs acknowledging funding from the MRC, any embargo on open access to the full text from the repository cannot exceed 6 months.

For outputs acknowledging funding from a different research council, any embargo on open access to the full text from the repository cannot exceed 6 months, or 12 months if the outputs is from a discipline in the arts, humanities or social sciences. These maximum embargo lengths are doubled for any outputs accepted at a time when RGU does not have access to UKRI's block grant (e.g. when there is no money left in the fund).

The full text does not need to be made available under a specific licence, but it should enable the same level of use as a Creative Commons BY-NC licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0), as a minimum. This means that outputs cannot be compliant through the Green route when published in Elsevier journals, since Elsevier require repositories to use a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0).

For outputs acknowledging funding from the MRC, the accepted manuscript must also be deposited on Europe PMC within six months of the date of first online publication. Authors should deposit their own papers using Europe PMC plus.

Other Requirements

In addition to explicit acknowledgement of UKRI funding, outputs must include a statement regarding where to access the underlying data.

Full Policy


Wellcome Trust Requirements

What is the Wellcome Trust?

The Wellcome Trust is a health charity based in the UK. It invests a vast amount of money into health research across the world, focusing particularly on urgent challenges affecting life, health and wellbeing. More information is available on the Wellcome Trust website.

The Wellcome Trust's policy was previously summarised in the same section as a number of other UK charities, who collectively pooled their financial support for Gold Open Access into the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF). COAF ended in September 2020 and the Wellcome Trust's new policy is significantly different to those of the other charities, so it has been given its own section in this guide.

Outputs Affected

Journal articles, monographs and book chapters submitted for publication on or after the 1st January 2021. This includes original, peer-reviewed research articles, and original scholarly monographs and book chapters. It does not include textbooks, 'trade' books, general reference works, or fiction. Individual chapters from edited collections are included when authored by a Wellcome-funded individual.

Route Preferred

For journal articles, the Gold route is preferred, but the Green route can be compliant as well.

For monographs and book chapters, the Gold route is mandatory.

Gold Requirements

For journal articles, the published version ("version of record" or "publisher PDF") must be made available on Europe PMC immediately from the date of first online publication. The Wellcome Trust expect this to be handled by publishers. The Wellcome Trust further state that the article must be made available under a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0).

Exceptionally, the Wellcome Trust may grant an author permission to deposit their article on Europe PMC under a Creative Commons BY-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0) instead. Authors must request the use of this exception using the form supplied by the Wellcome Trust.

For monographs and book chapters, the published version must be made available on the NCBI Bookshelf and Europe PMC within six months from the official date of final publication. Authors or their publishers should deposit monographs and book chapters using the Wellcome Trust's deposit form. The Wellcome Trust state that the work must be made available under a Creative Commons licence. Strong preference is given to a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), but if this is not available then the Wellcome Trust will also accept licences with non-commercial or no-derivatives restrictions, such as Creative Commons BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0)or BY-NC-ND (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0).

Help with APCs

Obtaining permission from a publisher to deposit the published versions of outputs on the NCBI Bookshelf and Europe PMC under an open licence will normally be achieved by paying for the work to be published open access on the publisher's website. The Wellcome Trust invite authors to request financial assistance in covering the costs for Gold Open Access. Authors should e-mail openaccess@wellcome.org with the following details.

  • For journal articles:

    • Your current employing organisation.
    • Title of the paper.
    • Wellcome grant reference number.
    • Journal title.
    • Proposed date of publication.
    • Cost of the open access fee.
  • For monographs and book chapters:

    • Your current employing organisation.
    • Title of the monograph or book chapter.
    • Wellcome grant reference number.
    • Publisher name.
    • Proposed date of publication.
    • Cost of the open access fee.

In either case, the Wellcome Trust will then supplement the research grant and allow RGU to claim reimbursement for the additional costs as usual.

Green Requirements

For journal articles, the accepted manuscript must be made available on Europe PMC immediately from the date of first online publication. Authors should deposit their own papers using Europe PMC plus. The Wellcome Trust further state that the article must be made available under a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0).

Exceptionally, the Wellcome Trust may grant an author permission to deposit their article on Europe PMC under a Creative Commons BY-ND licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0) instead. Authors must request the use of this exception using the form supplied by the Wellcome Trust.

In order to faciliate the deposit of accepted manuscripts on Europe PMC under a Creative Commons BY licence, the Wellcome Trust require authors to include the following statement on any submission of original research to peer-reviewed journals:

  • "This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [Grant number]. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission."

Other Requirements

For journal articles, the Wellcome Trust recommend using the Journal Checker Tool in advance of submitting the article to a journal, to check that the journal enables compliance with the Wellcome Trust policy and, if so, which route to use.

In addition to explicit acknowledgement of Wellcome Trust funding, outputs must include a statement explaining how other researchers can access any data, original software or materials underpinning the research.

Full Policy

The full policy details and guidance on how to be compliant are located on the Wellcome Trust website.


Other UK Charity Requirements

Other UK Charities

A group of six medical research charities previously worked together to support Open Access through the "Charity Open Access Fund" (COAF), which ended in September 2020. The Wellcome Trust was part of COAF, but its policy is now significantly different to those of the other five charities and so it has been handled as a separate section in this guide (see above). The remaining five charities are sufficiently similar in policy to be grouped in this section of the guide. The charities involved are:

Outputs Affected

Journal articles. This includes original research articles and non-commissioned review articles. This does not include editorials, letters, commissioned reviews, scholarly monographs, conference proceedings or book chapters.

Route Preferred

Gold route preferred, but the Green route can be compliant as well.

Gold Requirements

The article must be published open access on the publisher's website immediately from the date of first online publication. The charities further state that the article must be published under a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0).

Additionally, the published version ("version of record" or "publisher PDF") must also be deposited on Europe PMC within six months of the date of first online publication. In most cases, publishers will do this automatically, but if they do not provide that service then authors can deposit their own papers using Europe PMC plus.

Help with APCs

The charities do not generally provide financial support for covering the costs of Gold Open Access through RGU, but a small number of organisations invite authors to contact them directly:

Where support is not available from the funder, RGU recommends taking advantage of one of the university's offset deals (detailed in a separate guide), or relying on the Green route instead.

Green Requirements

The accepted manuscript must be deposited in Europe PMC within six months from the date of first online publication. Authors should deposit their own papers using Europe PMC plus. The charities further state that the article must be deposited under as open a licence as possible, with a Creative Commons BY licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0) being preferred.

For journal articles associated with Cancer Research UK, and accepted on or after the 1st January 2022, accepted manuscripts must be deposited in Europe PMC immediately from the date of first online publication. This means that the accepted manuscript must be deposited ahead of publication and that the publisher cannot impose an embargo longer than the date of publication (i.e. a zero-month embargo).

Other Requirements

In addition to explicit acknowledgement of charity funding, articles should include a statement regarding where to access the underlying data.

Full Policy


EU Horizon 2020 Requirements

What is EU Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 is the eighth European framework programme for research and investment, involving a very large amount of funding for projects between 2014 and 2020. The ninth framework programme (Horizon Europe) is currently in development and will cover projects between 2021 and 2027. The European Commission website has further information on both Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. The Open Access requirements detailed below are those for Horizon 2020. It is expected that there will be some differences in the requirements for Horizon Europe, but the full details are not yet known.

Outputs Affected

Journal articles. This includes peer-reviewed research articles. The European Commission also encourage (but do not require) open access for other types of output.

Route Preferred

No preference; both Gold and Green routes can be compliant.

Gold Requirements

The article must be published open access on the publisher's website. The policy states that the article must be published under a Creative Commons licence and, furthermore, that authors should retain copyright rather than transferring it to the publisher.

Additionally, the accepted manuscript must be deposited in a repository (as for the Green route) no later than the date of first online publication.

Help with APCs

The European Commission will reimburse any costs of Gold Open Access that are incurred before the project ends. For articles created after the end of a project, RGU recommends taking advantage of one of the university's offset deals (detailed in a separate guide), or relying on the Green route instead.

Green Requirements

The accepted manuscript must be deposited in a repository no later than the date of first online publication. RGU recommends contacting the Publications Team (publications@rgu.ac.uk) to deposit your outputs on OpenAIR, the university's repository.

Any embargo cannot exceed 6 months, or 12 months if the article is from a discipline in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

The full-text file must be made available under as open a licence as possible, with Creative Commons licences preferred. However, no specific licence is required.

Other Requirements

All outputs must explicitly acknowledge EU Horizon 2020 funding using specific information, including "European Union (EU)", "Horizon 2020", the name of the action, the acronym and the grant number.

When an article is published, the underlying data should be deposited in a repository as well. Additionally, outputs should include a statement regarding where to access the underlying data.

Full Policy

The full policy details can be found in the EU Horizon 2020 official guidelines.