skip to content

This page aims to provide clarity around some of the finer points of the REF Open Access policy, including advice on when, how, and to whom to ask for help, sources of information, explanations on the information needed and why, and practical tips to help both academics and support staff navigate the REF Open Access policy.


The information is organised in three categories. The Blue category is about matters directly impacting on authors' day-to-day research practices. The Purple and Yellow categories are about what authors, suport staff in Schools, and central support teams alike need to work on together as a team, to ensure Cambridge has the best choice of outputs for submission to REF. Some of the topics include a "What you need to do" section, addressed to authors, but UoA Administrators and Research Librarian could equally be in a position to take action, in some cases. There is a subtle difference beween the Purple category "Ensuring compliance" and the Yellow category "Managing compliance". The Purple category is about meeting the REF Open Access requirements, whereas the Yellow category is about resolving compliance issues. Please click on the title bar of each item to see full details. 




  Open Access Policy in practice
  Ensuring compliance 
  Managing compliance



I would like my paper(s) to be included in the REF submission, what do I do?

The REF Open Access policy requires journal articles and conference proceedings published with an ISSN to be made open access.  In order to comply and be eligible for REF, the first requirement is to deposit a copy of the author's accepted manuscript in a repository, within three months of acceptance for publication.  This requirement only applies to papers accepted for publication from 1 April 2016. 


What you need to do 


New publications:  As soon as your paper is accepted for publication, upload a copy of the accepted manuscript version to your Symplectic Elements account.  The Open Access Service will then process the deposit to Apollo, our repository.  Even if your paper is going to be published Gold open access, and whether Cambridge  or your co-authors' institution is paying the fee, it is very important that you act on acceptance.  We can replace the accepted manuscript version with the open access published version at a later date, if appropriate, but do not delay uploading your accepted manuscript to Elements.  This is the single, most important step you need to take in order to comply and ensure your work is eligible for submission to REF.


Previous publications:  If you have a back catalogue of publications that you have not yet deposited or that were published before you joined Cambridge, create a record in Elements for each publication. 


If the papers were accepted for publication on or after 1 April 2016, ensure that you add the acceptance date, the publication date, and a copy of the accepted manuscript.  Add a comment in the "Comments for the Open Access team" text box, providing any additional information that will help us assess your outputs' eligibility for REF. 


If the papers were accepted for publication before 1 April 2016, provide as much information as possible about the paper, including DOI link to the published paper.  If available, please upload a copy of the accepted manuscript version.


TIP:  Please do not upload the submitted version (the author's original version before undergoing peer-review), the publisher's proofs, or the published Version of Record, if it has not been published Gold open access.  We cannot deposit these versions in Apollo, and these files will be removed from the system.


I need help uploading my papers to Elements

You will need to have an active Symplectic Elements account in order to deposit your publications.  Symplectic Elements is the University's Research Information System, and it is managed by the Research Information Office.  Accounts are automatically created for researchers throught the HR system, and access requires Raven authentication.  Contact the Research Information Office if you do not currently have an account, or are having difficulties accessing the system.


The Library REF support team for your Unit of Assessment may also be able to assist you with depositing your publications.  Contact details are available here.


You can find out more information about Elements from the Research Information website, including a link to the Elements Moodle course.



My paper is under a press embargo, shall I upload it to Elements anyway?

Some publishers require a press embargo until formal publication of a paper.  This means that we are not allowed to make your outputs available in Apollo, until the paper is published by the journal.  However, the REF Open Access policy allows for publishers' embargoes, either pre or post publication of the paper.  The important thing to remember is to upload your accepted manuscript to Symplectic Elements as soon as possible and no later than three months from acceptance date, regardless of press embargoes or any other restrictions by the publisher.


What you need to do


Upload your accepted manuscript to Elements and add as much information as you can using the manual source form.  As a minimum, add the acceptance date and the journal's title.  Use the "Comments for the Open Access team" text box to let us know that your paper is under a press embargo, and the end date, which will be the publication date (if you do not know the exact publication date, an approximate date will suffice, as long as it is slightly later than the expected date of publication). 


We will then process your submission, placing an embargo on the entire record, to ensure that neither the manuscript file or the metadata are visible in the repository.  After the press embargo expires (i.e. when your paper is published), your submission will be made available in Apollo.  If the publisher also has an embargo period post-publication, only the metadata of your paper will be made availalbe (this is known as a closed deposit) until the end of the embargo period, when the manuscript file will also be made available.  


If you have questions about any of the above or you are unsure how to proceed, please get in touch with the Open Access Service and we will be happy to advise further.



I missed the deposit deadline, what shall I do?

If you have not deposited your accepted manuscritp within three months of acceptance, please upload your accepted manuscript to Symplectic Elements as soon as possible.  Add a comment in the "Comments for the Open Access team" text box (only availalbe in you are creating a manual source), letting us know the reason for the delay, providing as much information as possible.  We will then be able to assess whether we can use one of the REF exceptions and list your output as eligible for submission.


For information and guidance on exceptions, refer to the REF Open Access Policy Requiremens and Exceptions page, or contact the Open Access Service.  


Do I have to publish Gold open access for my outputs to be eligible for REF?

Some UK funders have a requirement for Gold open access to publications.  However, authors and institutions can meet the REF Open Access policy requirement without necessarily incurring any additional open access publication costs (such a through payment of an article processing charge), through the Green open access route.  Green open access, or self-archiving, means making a version of your paper (usually the Author's Accepted Manuscript version) available in an open access repository.   The easiest way to meet the REF requirements is by uploading your accepted manuscripts to your Elements account.  The Open Access Service will then process the deposit of your publications to Apollo, our institutional open access repository.


Are you ready to upload your papers to Elements?  Follow this link to deposit your manuscripts on acceptance.



My paper is going to be published Gold open access, do I need to do anything?

Yes, upload your accepted manuscript to Elements as soon as it is accepted for publication, and no later than three months from acceptance date.  This will ensure that your output has met the REF deposit requirements.  If the open access published Version of Record is available within that timeframe, we can replace it for the accepted version.  


Research funded by RCUK or COAF?

At Cambridge, as well as providing assistance in meeting REF-eligiblity requirements, the Open Access Service provides assistance processing article processing charges for Gold open access publications.  If you are in receipt of a grant from one of the UK Research Councils or COAF, let us know at the same time you upload your accepted manuscript to your Elements account.  This is so that we may assess whether we can pay the fees for your paper to be published Gold open access.  More information on paying for open access publication is available here.


What you need to do 


When you are in the Elements record for your paper, click on "Add manual source".  The manual source form contains a number of fields, one of the fields is a tick-box to indicate whether your research was funded by RCUK or COAF.  By ticking this box, your submission will be given priority status.  The Open Access Service will then aim to respond within two working days, to provide you with timely advice on how to proceed with publishing your article Gold open access if eligible, and if funds are available.  Depending on your funder, in some instances, it will not be necessary to pay to publish Gold Open Access.


TIP:  Please remember to acknowledge funding in your manuscript, including the grant number.  You can link your grants to the output record in Elements, this will  speed up processing your submission by the Open Acces Service.  It will also be helpful to you when you have to report to your funders. 



Are preprints eligible for REF?

Yes, preprints (or working papers) are one of the output types that can be submitted to REF.  You can find out more about eligibility definitions for research outputs here.  In the REF 2021 Guidance on submissions document (REF 2019/01), these are listed as working papers:  'research papers disseminated to encourage discussion and suggestions for revision.  This may be through pre-print dissemination, lodging in an institutional repository, or self-publication for distribution.'


Preprints, by definition, are un-refereed / un-published papers.  If you submit a preprint to a publisher for formal review, and the paper is subsequently accepted for publication, the output type is no longer a preprint, it is now a journal article.  Please take care with this important distinction.  


Preprints are not in scope of the REF Open Access policy, so do not need to meet the open access criteria.  Journal articles accepted for publication from 1 April 2016 are in scope of the REF Open Access policy, and must meet the open access criteria in order to be eligible for REF.


What you need to do


Preprints/Working papers:  If you intend to select one of your preprints/working papers for REF, please create a record for the preprint in Elements.  Underneath the title, on the top right hand corner of the Elements record, you can select the output type.  Make sure you select "Working paper", which is the last option on the drop-down list.  Add a note in the "Comments for the Open Access team" text box letting us know which preprint service you uploaded your preprint to, and add the link. Please do not upload preprint files into Symplectic Elements, as they will not be processed by the Open Access Team. Only papers which have been accepted for publication will be archived in Apollo.


Journal articles:  If you intend to select one of your journal articles for REF, for which you did not deposit a copy of the accepted manuscript in Elements, but you posted it to a preprint server before publication, your paper may be eligible for REF.  Please email the Open Access Team so they can assess whether the preprint is sufficient to comply with the REF open access requirements for journal articles.


Checking manuscript versions

The Open Access Service reviews every submission to check that the correct manuscript version has been uploaded.  In most cases, the author's accepted manuscritp is the only version we are allowed to deposit, with some very few exceptions where publishers do allow us to deposit the published Version of Record (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, for example).  If the paper will be published Gold open access, we replace the accepted manuscript with the Version of Record, once it is available.  If a manuscript version has been uploaded that we are not allowed to use, such as the submitted version, the proofs, or a Version of Record that is not open access, we will contact the author to request the accepted manuscript.   As part of the ongoing work preparing REF submissions, the UoA administrators and Research Librarians in Schools might also be reviewing manuscript versions of outputs selected for REF in liaision with authors.  


What you need to do


Respond to emails from the Open Access Service promptly, to prevent your outputs from missing the deposit deadline (three months from acceptance).  If you have any queries regarding manuscript versions, please contact the Open Access Service.  Alternative, liaise with your UoA administrative staff and research librarian, in particular if you need help uploading your manuscripts to Elements.  Contact details for each School are available here


Checking embargo periods

Generally, the Open Access Service checks publisher's policies and apply embargoes if appropriate, before depositing papers in Apollo.  The REF Open Access policy allows for publishers' embargoes, up to a maximum of 12 months for STEM disciplines, and 24 months for HASS disciplines.


What you need to do


In the majority of cases, authors do not need to do anything as this work is routinely completed by the Open Access Service behind the scenes, but if your paper is due to be published in a journal with an embargo period that exceeds the REF stated maxima, please let us know.  We will then assess whether it is possibly to apply a REF exception to your paper.


Updating metadata in Elements

Compliance with the REF Open Access policy is assessed on the deposit date in relation to the acceptance date (or for exceptions, publication date if deposit within three months from acceptance was not possible), so the key metadata needed are the acceptance and publication dates of the output.


Authors, UoA administrators and the Open Access Service can update metadata as it becomes available.  It is most likely that the metadata will be updated in the course of checks carried out by the Open Access Service prior to depositing the paper in Apollo, or by UoA administrators working on outputs selected for REF.  However, only the author knows the acceptance date (as given in the acceptance email from the publisher to the author), so in cases where this information is missing, the author will be asked to provide this information.


What you need to do


Please provide the acceptance date when uploading your accepted manuscript to Elements.  Click on "Add manual source", and complete as many fields as you are able to.  At the point of acceptance, you are probably only going to be able to add the acceptance date, title and abstract, journal title, and the accepted manuscript file.  Further information can be added at a later date, for example, publication date and DOI link when the paper is published.  If you did not enter the acceptance date when you uploaded your accepted manuscript, the Open Access Service may need to contact you to ask for this information.  Please respond to our email requests as soon as possible, so that the metadata of your outputs may be complete, and assessment of their eligibility for REF may be confirmed.


Applying exceptions to the Policy

In some cases, it may not be possible for outputs to meet the REF open access criteria.  The criteria consists of deposit, access, and discoverability requirements.  Some outputs may meet some of the criteria but not others, for example, meet the access and discoverability but not the deposit requirements.  The REF policy allows for a number of exceptions to deal with some of these cases.  You can find more information about the policy requirements and exceptions here.


Identifying and applying exceptions to outputs that do not meet the full open access criteria is a highly complex process.  The Open Access Service manages this process in liaision with authors, who are responsible in many cases for alerting us that an exception applies, and for providing supporting evidence.


What you need to do


If you think any of your outputs qualify for an exception, please let us know.


Resolving REF Open Access compliance issues

The Research Information Office and the Open Access Service work together to provide accurate and detailed publication eligibility reports for REF2021.  The reports assess whether publications may be used in the University's REF submission, and for those outputs in scope of the Open Access policy, whether they are compliant with the policy requirements.  There are five possible assessments that each publication may receive.  These are "Eligible", "Unclear (likely eligible)", "Unclear (not deposited)", "Unclear (deposited late)", and "Not eligibile".  Each eligibility assessment is accompanied by a compliance action, such as updating acceptance and/or publication date in Elements, uploading the accepted manuscript in Elements, identifying if the output was published Gold open access or if it was deposited in a repository other than Apollo.  Reports are confidential and available only to UoA Chairs and administrators, who investigate and resolve queries arising from the reports, in liaision with the Open Access Service.  Eligibility assessments are updated regularly to reflect any compliance actions taken by UoA administrators and/or authors.


What you need to do


Please work with your UoA administrators and Research Librarians in your School by responding promptly to their queries so that any issues with your publications' REF-eligibility may be resolved.  In some cases, you may need to liaise with your co-authors, either at Cambridge or elsewhere.  If you need help, the Open Access Service can provide you with guidance, training and advice on the REF Open Access policy.  For any other REF queries, the REF team is best placed to support you.  Follow the links below to contact the relevant teams:


Library REF support teams


Open Access Service


REF team