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Open Access

Practical Open Access 

So, what about the practical aspects of Open Access and making work available. A common misunderstanding is the difference between sharing something openly and sharing something via Open Access. Many researchers will share versions of their work online via departmental webpages or sites such as ResearchGate and but just because they are available does not make them Open Access. This is particularly important when it comes to outputs which are eligible for REF assessment as certain criteria need to be followed.

  • To make work Open Access it needs to be uploaded to a repository. As discussed in the section on terminology, a repository is an online store of information which commits to the ongoing preservation of and access to the material it contains. Commercial sites such as online social networks and personal/departmental webpages do not meet these criteria and are therefore not considered compliant with Open Access. Many institutions will maintain such a repository and there are also subject specific repositories which can be used.
  • The REF Open Access policy says that the authors accepted manuscript of an article or conference proceedings with an ISSN must be uploaded to a suitable repository within three months of its publication to be eligible. This is usually the date found on the email sent from the publisher where they agree to publish an output.

If there are valid reasons why a manuscript cannot be shared it should still be uploaded within the time frame and placed under an embargo. This means that the record for the material is openly available but the actual content is still restricted. This will satisfy most funders Open Access requirements but anyone who is unsure should consult the funder or the Open Access team directly for clarification.

Routes to Open Access: green and gold

As discussed earlier, there are two major routes for researchers wanting to make their work available Open Access: green and gold.

  • Green - sometimes referred to as 'self-archiving' this is the most common route to sharing work openly. This option allows researchers to share a version of their work in a repository (institutional or subject based) for anyone to access as needed. Whilst this route does not incur any financial cost for the researcher there are some other costs to be aware of. The burden of uploading the output is on the researcher, there may be restrictions on which version can be shared due to copyright and it is likely that the output may be placed under an embargo - a temporary restriction on general access.
  • Gold - also known as 'born Open Access content', these are outputs which are made openly available as soon as they are published with no embargo period. The output can be published via a title which publishes everything openly as default or by paying a fee known as an article processing charge (APC). This option often costs the researcher a large sum of money, something which should be factored into grant applications and publication strategies.

Researchers should carefully check which option(s) are available to them as these vary according to both funder mandates and the policy of the title they want to publish with.

London skyline

Image: skeeze under CC0

Funder landscape

The Open Access landscape is large and complicated and it is impossible to cover every possible scenario in one resource. A helpful source of information is the SHERPA RoMEO database which offers easy to understand summaries of Open Access policies for a number of funders. Although this provides an excellent starting point it is always best to consult the individual funder website for clarification.


The information on this page is intended for guidance only and researchers should always seek the latest information from the funders themselves.

Below is a very brief summary of the major UK Open Access policies which librarians advising researchers can expect to come across. This summary was written in July 2019 and learners should remember that this is a fast moving landscape where policies change every day. It is always best to check with the funder directly for the latest policy documentation and use the following summary as an example only.

Research Councils

Peer reviewed research articles which acknowledge funding from any of the UK Research Councils should be either be published Open Access or have a copy deposited in an Open Access repository under an embargo. The length of this embargo varies according to discipline - arts, humanities and social sciences can place an embargo of 12 - 24 months and science, technology, engineering and medical outputs should have an embargo of 6 - 12 months. Any open outputs should be released under an open licence, ideally CC-BY.

Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is one of the largest funders of medical in health research both in the UK and globally and were one of the first to declare their support for Open Access publishing. They currently mandate that any articles they fund (in whole or part) published in peer reviewed journals should be made available via PubMed Central or Europe PMC within six months of publication. This policy also extends to books and individual chapters which should be shared via PMC Bookshelf or Europe PMC within the same time frame. When Wellcome pay the fee for Open Access publication of article they require a CC-BY licence attached to promote reuse and this is also the preferred option for books/chapters.


The Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) is a partnership between six of the biggest medical research funders including the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. Many research institutions receive a grant from COAF to cover any gold Open Access costs and where this is used the final version of the output must be deposited in PubMed Central and made available with no embargo. This should be licensed under a CC-BY licence. If researchers take the green route then they should check the rules of the title they are publishing in and deposit the author accepted manuscript within Europe PMC with a maximum six month embargo.

Even for these three funding organisations learners can start to see both the similarities and subtle differences that confuse researchers. The best thing librarians can do is to keep up to date with any changes for the funders they support, something which is usually shared via websites and the social media presence of the funding organisation.

Think about ... Funder policies

Although it helps to know the basics of different funder policies, those working in research support will also need to understand how these relate to their local implementation policy. Try looking at the policies of some of the funders currently used by the researchers you support and look at these on Sherpa/RoMEO. Would you be able to answer some of the common questions from researchers on how these are implemented and what this means for their work?

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