UCL News


HEFCE consultation on REF 2020

8 August 2013

HEFCE has recently published its consultation document on proposed arrangements for the REF 2020.

Their proposals relate specifically to a mandate, from 2016, that research outputs submitted as units of assessment to REF 2020 should be available as Open Access outputs via institutional repositories, in UCL's case UCL Discovery.

Open Access to publications can be defined as follows - open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

It would be a significant change to REF practice for these proposals to be adopted. However, the consultation which HEFCE has initiated is a broad and helpful consultation and is to be welcomed. It should be noted that this consultation does NOT affect submissions to REF 2014.

What do the proposals say?

In essence, the HEFCE proposals would mandate Open Access availability for all journal and Conference proceedings submitted to REF 2020 from 2016. It is important to note that monographs would be exempted from this requirement. Texts submitted as Open Access publications would be open to Text and Data mining.

HEFCE wants to know whether universities can cope with the enhanced role for institutional repositories and at what point the article should be made Open Access (date of acceptance or date of publication). Fortunately, HEFCE will not be revisiting the vexed question of embargo periods, which has caused concern in the light of the RCUK policy.

Is 2016 the right time in the next planning cycle for REF 2020? HEFCE thinks that it is, but would like to hear researchers' views. The proposals suggest that the way to identify UK research outputs is to look for a UK address in the 'Address' field, although this could lead to difficulties for researchers transferring between institutions (especially from abroad) in the REF period - these cases would be dealt with separately. And, in the period of transition, HEFCE proposes that only a certain % of research outputs should be available as Open Access in REF 2020 and gives some suggestions for each of the four REF panels.

Significance of the HEFCE proposals

The wide consultation, on which HEFCE is engaged, is to be welcomed. It stands in strong contrast to the lack of consultation from RCUK on their recent Open Access policy. This inaction was criticised by the House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology. So the open consultation on which HEFCE has engaged is to be welcomed.

Should the proposals be implemented, the resulting Open Access to UK research outputs would provide a shop window for UK research. It is known that Open Access increases usage of the research piece, and this usage can be tracked and reported by repositories like UCL Discovery. This benefits the researcher, especially the researcher new to his/her career.

UCL consultation

UCL has been contacted by HEFCE and asked to submit an institutional response to their consultation. If you have views on the HEFCE proposals, please do share them with us. Send your comments to my colleague Dr Paul Ayris, who is coordinating UCL's response on behalf of my Office.


2013 is turning into the year for Open Access for UK universities. The RCUK mandate has led the way and now HEFCE is following suit. UCL has recently approved its UCL Research Data policy which also tackles the question of Openness, this time for research data. In this light, the HEFCE consultation on Open Access to publications is welcome.

Professor David Price

Office of the Vice-Provost (Research)