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Understanding open access

Open access means making research publications freely available online. It ensures that your work reaches the widest possible audience, and that it can be used and shared easily.

What is open access?

Open access began as a serious scholarly communications movement in the early 2000s, when developments in information and communications technology increasingly allowed research publications to be accessed online. Its goal is to make this material openly available online without restriction to all readers, free from the barriers imposed by subscription access. Open access is now required by many research funders and for REF 2021. UCL's Open Access Team supports authors with both types of open access: Green and Gold.

Green open access

Green open access (or self-archiving) means making research freely available through an open access repository, usually after an embargo (6-24 months). Most traditional subscription journals permit Green open access, at no cost to the author.

At UCL, the Green route is fulfilled by uploading research outputs in RPS. The Open Access Team checks all uploads and apply the necessary conditions before making them publicly available in our open access repository, UCL Discovery.

Gold open access

Gold open access means making research freely available and reusable on the journal’s website, immediately on publication. This means either publishing with a fully open access publisher (e.g. PLOS, UCL Press), usually for a fee, or paying to make research open access with a subscription journal/traditional book publisher. UCL's Open Access Team can advise you on whether Gold funds are available for your publication, and arrange for payment to be made.

Benefits of open access

Most research funders require open access, and it is included in UCL's Academic Career Framework. It has many wider benefits too. It allows policy-makers, politicians, patients, NHS staff, prospective students, former students, independent researchers, citizen scientists, and academics in developing countries to access research without a subscription. Open access research is more likely to influence policy, turn into practical applications and lead to further development and collaboration. Making research open access produces increased downloads and citations. It also ensures that taxpayers can access the results of publicly-funded research.

Diagram explaining the benefits of making research open access. Adapted from an original graphic under CC BY by Danny Kingsley and Sarah Brown.