Open Access and the REF

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Its outcomes inform the allocation of approximately £2 billion of public funding per year for universities’ research. The REF is conducted jointly by Research England (RE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE).

To be eligible for submission to REF 2021 the funding councils mandate that the research outputs specified below must be discoverable, free to read and downloadable by anyone with an internet connection. Researchers can usually access the journals they need via their institution and might think they are Open Access, but in reality this is only made possible by costly subscriptions their institution acquired.

REF Open Access policy applies to journal articles and conference contributions (with an International Standard Serial Number – ISSN) which were accepted for publication after 1 April 2016.


What do I need to do?Dateofacceptance

1. Create a record for your output in Pure (our institutional repository) upon acceptance for publication – full date of acceptance is mandatory.

2. Upload the Accepted Author Manuscript (AAM) to the record you created no later than 3 months after acceptance.

3. The Research Support team will do the rest.


Green Open Access


The route described above is what we call Green Open Access. Once the AAM has been deposited in our Institutional repository it may be subject to a publisher embargo period. The Research Support Team, in the process of validating records, sets embargo periods and licenses. After the embargo period (most commonly 12 months) elapses, the AAM automatically becomes freely available in Heriot-Watt Research Portal for everyone to discover (as seen on the right).


What is an Accepted Author Manuscript (AAM)?

AAM is the version of the paper that has been peer-reviewed and the changes and revisions required by the reviewers have been incorporated, but before any typesetting or formatting has been applied by the publisher. Typically, it is without page numbers, volume and issue information and any publisher’s insignia.


What is Pure?

Pure is the University’s current research information system, highlighting Heriot-Watt University research activity to the wider community.  Pure provides a single location to store information about Heriot-Watt University research staff, publications, research data, activities and collaborations.

For any questions about Open Access or REF contact us at

For further reading, please visit:

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