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Research Support: Open Access and Publishing

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What is Open Access?

Open Access is commonly understood as making research freely available for anyone to view online, sometimes without the copyright and licensing restrictions commonly associated with traditional publishing models. True open access allows the end user to share and modify the paper, often following the terms of a Creative Commons (CC) license.

Green Open Access is where the pre-print (first version of a paper) or post-print (final, peer-reviewed, pre-publication version) is deposited in an institutional repository (such as QMU's eResearch publications repository) or in a subject repository. The depositing of these papers can be subject to publisher imposed embargo periods, where the paper cannot be made available for a specified time period.
Gold Open Access is open access which is achieved by publishers - often where an APC (article processing charge) has been paid to a publisher to make a paper open access on the publisher website. This does not necessarily mean that the paper can be posted elsewhere.

REF 2021 and Open Access

REF 2021 Open Access publication requirements

In order for a journal article or a conference proceeding to be eligible for submission for REF 2021, it must be made open access within three months of the acceptance date.  This applies to all journal articles and conference proceedings, with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), accepted for publication after 1 April 2016

The policy does not apply to monographs or other long form publications, to non-text outputs, research data, conference proceedings published with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), or publications that must remain confidential for security or commercial reasons.

Open access criteria





Journal article or Conference Proceeding with an ISSN

to be deposited in an institutional repository (eResearch), or a subject repository (e.g. PubMed Central)

no later than 3 months after the date of acceptance from 1 April 2018.

(Research England advise they will introduce an exception to the policy after 1 April 2018, allowing outputs unable to meet deposit timescales to remain compliant if they are deposited up to three months after the date of publication) 

to be the 'final author version' or 'post-print' which can be replaced with the final published PDF version at a later date.

Further details available on the REF 2021 Guidance webpage.

Embargo periods

Any embargo periods imposed by journal publishers must not exceed the following lengths:

  • 12 months for REF Main Panels A and B
  • 24 months for REF Main Panels C and D

Outputs still under embargo can be selected for the next REF provided that the date of first publication is still within the REF reporting period.

Version to use

Use the final draft author manuscript, as accepted for publication, including modifications based on referees' suggestions, but before it has undergone copy-editing and proof correction. This is sometimes known as the post-print, author version, author accepted manuscript (AAM), or personal copy. It is important to have the correct version of the file to upload and to check for copyright restrictions. It is often not permissible to make the publisher’s version accessible via an institutional repository. The SHERPA/RoMEO website can help you to find out more about a journal or publisher’s copyright restrictions. Alternatively, please contact the Library's eResearch Team for assistance.


There are a limited number of situations where an output may be exempt from the open access policy, which fall under the headings deposit, access and technical exceptions. Exceptions to the policy can also be made for 'gold' open access papers, where a publisher makes an article freely available on publication with a licence that permits sharing - usually a Creative Commons (CC) licence.

Any output that falls within the scope of this policy and is submitted to the post-2014 REF but does not meet the requirements without a valid exception will be given an unclassified score and will not be assessed.

How to ensure your output meets the Open Access requirements

You can achieve Green open access by depositing your research output in QMU's institutional repository eResearch.  As soon as possible after your article is accepted for publication, please send your accepted manuscript version and date of acceptance, ideally with your acceptance email or letter, to eResearch.  Repository staff will check embargo periods and publisher permissions and create a record for your output.  We will then notify you when this is complete and ask that you double check the record to ensure the details are correct. 

More information

Why Publish Open Access?

  • Open Access makes your research accessible to many more people than publishing in subscription-only journals
  • Open Access encourages public engagement with research, which is often publicly funded
  • Many funding bodies now have mandates which require researchers to make their research available in an open access source. QMU policy requires you to deposit a version of your work in eResearch - QMU's publications repository
  • The REF 2021 Guidance on submissions (REF 2019/01) document states that:

"The ... policy applies to journal articles and conference contributions (with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)) which are accepted for publication from 1 April 2016 and published on or before 31 December 2020. It requires these research outputs to be made open access for those outputs to be eligible for submission in REF 2021." (See: Part 2: Submissions - Open access policy - paragraph 108, pp. 26-27).

Where can I find out more about open access?


The mission of CORE (COnnecting REpositories) is to aggregate all open access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide and make them available to the public.


This website provides summaries of the permissions for publisher and journal copyright policies relating to self-archiving of papers. SHERPA/RoMEO has been recommended as a tool for policy checks for the purpose of the next REF.


A website with information on research funders' open access policies.


SHERPA/FACT is a tool to help researchers check if the journals in which they wish to publish their results comply with their funder's requirements for open access to research.

SHERPA Services

Links and information for all SHERPA services.

DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals)

An online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals. It is a white list of open access journals and aims to be the starting point for all information searches for quality, peer reviewed open access material.