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    Workshop summary: REF Exceptions & Subject Repositories

    By Alan Bracey, on 4 February 2016

    Our workshop on the 25th proved a practical and thought-provoking day, generating some excellent feedback. Of particular interest was HEFCE’s stance on exceptions, the opportunity to share current approaches to recording exceptions, and an exploration of reporting REF compliance with Europe PMC and arXiv. A special thanks to all our speakers. A summary of all sessions and links to slides follows.


    Hannah DeGroff provided an overview and update on Jisc’s OA Good Practice Programme, touching on the recently released REF Compliance Checker plugin for EPrints, and calling for institutions to join the Publications Router service (email for info). The Router will populate institutions’ repositories and CRISs with their researchers’ papers. Ben Johnson from HEFCE later emphasised that publishers are unlikely to sign up to the service if institutions haven’t already. Hannah’s slides are available here.


    Catherine Sharp from UCL reminded us of the exceptions, and summarised the key issues with each, including: difficulties in securing author manuscripts of multi-author papers, problems institutions have in tracking Gold OA papers paid directly by authors or other institutions, how to demonstrate that authors have considered “appropriateness” when publishing in a non-compliant title, who should record exceptions (authors or OA Teams) – and how, e.g. using various publications management systems. Alan Bracey outlined an analysis of UCL’s 2014 REF submission with regard to embargo and deposit exceptions, and presented a community list of non-compliant publishers and journals (see this blog post for more). Slides are available here.


    Ben Johnson outlined HEFCE’s position on exceptions. He reiterated that the scholarly publications system is broken, relies on out-of-date technology, and needs to be changed. He clarified some key points:

    • REF2021 has been committed to by the government in the Green PaperThe OA policy needs to be simple, flexible, but firm. The goal in the first instance is to increase open access.
    • HEFCE wishes to empower institutions to make judgements with regard to policy interpretation and implementation. “Best endeavours” in point 44 of the policy should be interpreted as best efforts by institutions to establish a framework to maximise compliance, rather than best efforts by academics themselves. Claiming exceptions will not be made difficult.
    • HEFCE understands that researchers’ deposit rates are unlikely to be sufficient without intervention by institutions, who in turn need reliable publication alerts to prompt action. 
    • The requirement to deposit manuscripts within three months of publication (begins April 2016) could be interpreted as applying to final publication in an issue. (However, HEFCE wants to avoid introducing delays into the deposit process.) This, and the requirement to deposit within 3 months of acceptance (due to start April 2017), will be reviewed in Autumn 2016.
    • If academics aren’t aware of journal policies when publishing, they should be. Work is needed to make some publishers’ OA policies clear – these publishers are not supporting open access on the ground (despite claims otherwise). Unclear or missing publisher policies is unacceptable, and passive non-compliance by publishers should be challenged. This will take time.
    • The “appropriateness” of a journal is for the academic to decide, following discussion with their institution. HEFCE will want to see evidence of a system in place to enable researchers to understand this requirement.


    Tom Parsons updated delegates on HEFCE’s new Sherpa REF service. Sherpa REF will provide researchers and institutions with a quick yes/no answer to the question of a journal’s compliance. Designed with a simple interface, a stable beta release is due in February. Tom explored some of the complications involved in boiling 4000 words of policy to a checklist for assessing journal policies. Sherpa REF entries have been entered manually, since publishers do not make machine-readable policies available.


    • Although the potentially small number of exceptions makes them manageable, institutions still need a process in place, rather than dealing with each exception as it comes up. Most institutions are not keeping formal evidence of exceptions, although one is keeping copies of acceptance emails.
    • In general, institutions are not communicating exceptions to researchers (it’s already hard enough communicating the bare bones of the policy). Institutions are not recording exceptions widely yet – workflows aren’t ready. A few are actively recording mainly deposit/embargo exceptions, with Excel, Symplectic’s OA Monitor, or Pure. Recording exceptions is problematic in publications management systems/CRISs. An added complication with the embargo exception: when does it start? Some publishers specify date of acceptance (e.g. RSC), some publication.
    • Agreement that exceptions should be managed by library staff rather than authors or departments – don’t want to offer a ‘get-out’. General preference for dealing with exceptions once manuscripts are deposited. Contact researchers if needed, but keep the message as simple as possible. However, there are certain exceptions that only researchers will know about in relation to a paper (e.g. unlawful/security risk). Also preference for central upload of manuscripts in a department by one person e.g. library staff or research administrators.
    • No consensus on how/where Sherpa REF fits in yet. It might include too much information to be helpful to researchers; the focus should be on deposit.
    • Some departments keep a list of recommended publications for researchers: it’s unlikely that a library’s REF blacklist/whitelist would influence this. There’s concern over librarians telling researchers where to publish. There’s a risk of directing researchers to/away from journals who subsequently change their OA policy. However, a REF blacklist may be useful for pressuring publishers to change policies.
    • There’s a general preference for reporting to HEFCE via upload from Pure/Symplectic/equivalent system, in RIOXX-compliant form.
    • Compliance of journals (embargoes) depends on the panel to which the paper is submitted. Institutions can use their 2014 submissions as a guide to which journals are submitted to which panels, however an article may subsequently be entered to panel A or B, instead of C or D.
    • There’s uncertainty on how to handle the Gold OA exception. HEFCE seem not to require evidence. There’s general preference for tracking Gold so institutions know which papers won’t need to comply. It’s difficult to track papers paid for by researchers themselves/other institutions. There’s also potential for mixed messages with the Gold exception, since deposit/action isn’t required from the researcher. Is the REF policy still a Green OA policy? Some institutions with their own OA funds are still encouraging Green deposit when paying Gold fees.


    Cecy Marden gave an overview of how the Trust uses Europe PMC to monitor compliance of funded journal papers with its open access policy, provided some tips and tricks for reporting, and discussed compliance rates. EPMC struggles to check OA licences accurately, because of errors in publishers’ metadata. The current solution is using the Cottage Labs tool to determine the type of licence used. Cecy’s slides (including example searches) are available here.


    Catherine Sharp presented results of testing Europe PMC and PMC to identify author manuscripts. Europe PMC allows searching for author manuscripts, but currently provides unreliable results. A fix for this is forthcoming, and other developments to aid REF reporting are being discussed. PMC successfully finds manuscripts, although numbers are low. Catherine’s slides (including example searches) are available here.


    Danny Kingsley led a discussion of the limitations of and possibilities for using arXiv to record REF compliance. ArXiv is an international subject repository hosting nearly 10,000 new open access papers a month. It generated over 14 million downloads in Nov 2015. But it would need changes to enable reporting for REF. Cambridge and other Russell Group institutions have discussed the potential cost and timeframe: about $75,000 to instate acceptance date and version, with 6 months’ development time. The cost could be shared by Russell Group universities and/or Jisc. However some problems have been identified: the risk of setting a precedent for funding changes to other subject repositories, that a significant proportion of deposits may turn out to be pre-prints/submitted versions instead of accepted manuscripts, and concerns over interfering with a successful community tool for the sake of reporting funder compliance. It was generally agreed that more needs to be known about how researchers use arXiv before committing to funding changes. Discussions are ongoing, and participation is invited from institutions who are not already involved. Slides are available here.

    REF exceptions

    By Alan Bracey, on 21 December 2015

    As part of our work on exceptions to the REF policy, we’ve done an analysis of UCL’s 2014 REF submission in relation to the following exceptions:

    • 39 (b): embargo periods that are longer than the permitted REF maximums
    • 39 (c): journals that do not allow deposit

    We were keen to get an idea of how many of these exceptions we would have had to report to HEFCE had the policy applied in 2014. We also wanted to see how far our findings agreed with HEFCE’s estimate that 96% of 2014 REF submissions covered by the policy had embargo periods that could have complied (see para 54 of the consultation outcomes document here). As well as answering these questions, we’ve produced some statistics on non-compliant journals: We’ve also put together an editable list of all the non-compliant journals we found, by panel, which we hope will be a useful community resource:

    What we did

    UCL submitted a total of 9,413 publications to REF 2014. Of these, 8,048 (85%) would have needed to comply with the new OA policy, i.e. they were papers published in journals or proceedings with an ISSN.

    We boiled the 8,048 eligible publications down to a list of 2,510 ISSNs, and checked each title’s Green OA policy. The work consisted of manual checks of publisher webpages, Sherpa Romeo record checks, and using some embargo period data supplied by the Sherpa REF project team.

    We recorded journal embargo lengths, where available, and if deposit wasn’t allowed. We also recorded where a Green OA policy was unclear, or missing. Then we checked our findings against the maximum embargo lengths permitted by HEFCE, and created a list of non-compliant publications. From this, we extracted lists of non-compliant journal/proceedings titles, one for each panel. We’re making the lists available here: They’re open to anyone to edit, correct and supplement.

    A selection of our findings

    531 of the 8,048 publications would have fallen under either the ’embargo length’ (39b) or ‘deposit not allowed’ (39c) exception. This includes publications in titles without a clear policy, which constituted the majority of the exceptions (281).

    93.4% of publications submitted to REF2014 that would have fallen under the policy would have complied (leaving aside other exceptions) if they’d been deposited in time. This is close to HEFCE’s estimate of 96%.

    The majority of our exceptions (54%) were in our panel A submission.

    Elsevier was UCL’s top non-compliant publisher. 15% of the exceptions were in their journals. They lead on this score by a wide margin, with Wiley, the 2nd-highest publisher of non-compliant papers, publishing 9% of the exceptions. We suspect that society journals will feature in the lists of these publishers’ journals – but we haven’t checked, yet.

    Of all UCL’s non-compliant papers, more were published in The Journal of Immunology than any other title. Its publisher, The American Association of Immunologists (AAI), was the 4th-highest non-compliant publisher in our list.

    For more stats, see:

    What next?

    We’re running a workshop to look at all the REF exceptions in January. We’re asking delegates to contribute their experiences of working with the exceptions so far. However, we’d welcome feedback from everyone, and will include comments from the whole community in the exceptions toolkit that we’ll be producing. Please add your comments to this document:

    APC survey report

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 9 December 2015

    The Pathways to Open Access project recently ran a survey to find out how different UK institutions manage their APC funds and determine eligibility for open access funding.

    The full survey report is now available in draft form. Please send comments to

    Sixty complete reponses to the survey were received. The results show a wide variety of approaches both to complying with the RCUK policy and to eligibility for funding. Key findings include:

    • 53% of respondents apply the strict embargoes (6/12 months) in the RCUK policy; 41% apply the transitional embargoes (6/12/24 months); (6% “other”)
    • If both Gold and Green options comply with the RCUK requirements, 34% advise the author to choose whichever they consider most appropriate; 31% advise or encourage Green; 23% advise or encourage Gold
    • 23% determine eligibility for funding on where the award or PI is based; 17% on where the corresponding or lead author is based; 38% treat papers as eligible regardless of where the funded author is based
    • 68% participate in publisher prepayment schemes
    • 18 institutions have an institutional fund for non-RCUK/COAF APCs

    Institutions commented on the lack of policy harmonisation, but also emphasised the importance of flexibility in implementing funders’ policies and managing APC block grants.

    The project looks forward to further discussions between institutions and funders to achieve greater clarity for all stakeholders involved in using and managing APC funding.

    Project update: September 2015

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 9 September 2015

    Since Research Consulting’s review of progress towards implementation OA policy for REF in May, our Pathfinder project has been identified a number of specific challenges that we will be focusing on for the remainder of the project. Over the summer, we have been putting together a revised plan of work to incorporate those themes.

    We will be concentrating on the following areas:

    REF exceptions
    The REF open access policy update in July 15 contains an assurance that ‘Numbers of exceptions claimed within a submission will not affect the REF results’. However, many institutions are still keen for the sector to develop a consistent approach to how the different exceptions are implemented. Over the autumn, we will gather evidence of REF exceptions from the community. We will then run a workshop (on both exceptions and subject repositories – see below) that will help to develop best practice in applying the exceptions. Early in the new year, we will produce a toolkit summarising our findings.

    REF and subject repositories
    Deposit in subject repositories is permitted under the REF open access policy, but institutions are unsure which subject repositories comply with the REF criteria, and how subject repositories could be used to monitor compliance. After some initial scoping of the potential for compliance monitoring using subject repositories, our workshop on exceptions and subject repositories will investigate different institutional approaches, and will inform a report that we will produce early in the new year.

    Payment of APCs on multi-author/multi-institution papers
    The RCUK review has recommended that RCUK revisits its guidance on multi-author/multi-institution APC payments in dialogue with the sector. There are number of different practices in determining eligibility for APC funds. We will run a survey in September/October 2015 on managing eligibility for APC funds and paying for multi-institution papers. The resulting report (in the form of a blog post) will help to provide funders and institutions with information on how block grant funding is being applied in practice.

    We are also looking into the possibility of doing some work on the implementation of the Springer off-setting deal, but as yet it is too early to establish what form this might take.

    For information on the work of the other Pathfinder projects, see the Open Access Good Practice blog.

    Pathfinder advocacy toolkit

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 26 May 2015

    The UCL/Nottingham/Newcastle Pathfinder project is pleased to release a new Advocacy toolkit. The toolkit provides good practice recommendations and practical advice for UK HEIs to help them communicate with researchers about funder requirements and institutional policies on open access. It focuses on seven key stages in open access advocacy:

    1. Gathering essential information about policies and open access publishing
    2. Locating and understanding your audience
    3. Profiling open access stakeholders
    4. Creating messages that will be compelling
    5. Planning your communication campaign
    6. Communicating and advocating
    7. Monitoring, measuring and evaluating success

    The project team hopes that this new resource has something for eveyone, from institutions already experienced with open access advocacy to those trying to build an effective advocacy programme from scratch. We’d be happy to hear your comments: please send them to

    black and white version of the toolkit for printing is also available.

    Project update: March 2015

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 23 March 2015

    bridge-641427_1280[2]Open Access Advocacy Workshop: Joining the Dots

    The highlight of our Pathfinder activity since our baseline report was the project’s advocacy workshop on 20 March, organised and facilitated by Rob Johnson (Research Consulting). The aim of the workshop was to share experiences of communicating the open access message to researchers, and to identify best practice and areas for improvement. In planning the workshop sessions, we deliberately focused on the different stakeholders involved in open access communication, particularly publishers, funders and – of course – institutions. With representatives from a range of different publishers – Taylor & Francis, BMJ and Oxford University Press – as well as from RCUK and HEFCE, the workshop aimed to provide a balanced view of the challenges and opportunities in communicating open access to UK researchers.

    The speakers’ presentations are available on Slideshare (all entitled Open Access Advocacy: Joining the Dots), and a summary of the day follows below.

    The packed agenda began with an update from Sarah Fahmy on Jisc’s open access services. Then Mark Thorley (RCUK) discussed some of the challenges that institutions have encountered in communicating funders’ different policies. He emphasised that RCUK has deliberately allowed institutions freedom to interpret and apply the RCUK policy as they see fit.


    The introductory sessions concluded with a presentation from Simon Butt-Bethlendy on communications theory. He stressed the importance of positive, persuasive messages, the value in sharing success stories, and the advantages of taking advantage of internal institutional communications teams to spread the word effectively.

    The rest of the morning was devoted to the role of publishers in communicating with authors and alerting them to institutions’ policies and eligibility criteria. Rhodri Jackson (OUP), Sana Mulla (BMJ) and Vicky Gardner (Taylor & Francis) discussed their approaches to enabling authors to comply with open access mandates, the difficulty of delivering a simple, straightforward message in a global environment, and the likely benefits of technical changes like assigning DOIs on acceptance.

    Presentations from UCL, Nottingham and Newcastle in the afternoon highlighted, amongst other things, the multiplicity of stakeholders in open access, the complications of trying to change cultures at a time of technical upheaval (particularly where institutional systems are in flux), and the value of building support for open access at senior levels of an institution. Questions followed about where responsibility for compliance monitoring lies – with academic faculties or with support services like the library or research office.

    After group discussion about different methods of communication and the roles of publishers, funders and institutions, Steven Hill (HEFCE) gave the final session. He emphasised the value in changing researchers’ behaviour, and the importance of widespread dissemination to scholarly research, while recognising that it is important for all stakeholders to work together to achieve change.

    One of the benefits of the day was the chance to discuss open access advocacy with a range of different agents. Publishers and institutions both face the challenge of differing policies (funders’, publishers’ and institutions’), and it was very worthwhile to compare notes on the best ways of presenting a complex message as simply as possible.

    Other work

    Separately, we have been working together on comparing open access workflows at our three institutions, providing feedback to Jisc Monitor on APC payment workflows, participating in the RLUK publisher processes group (including identifying problems with particular publisher processes), comparing our RCUK compliance monitoring methods and providing input into the Sherpa REF consultation.

    Pathways to Open Access Baseline Report

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 17 December 2014

    UCL, Nottingham and Newcastle are pleased to announce that the baseline report from our Pathfinder project, comparing our approaches to open access, is now available. Like all the Pathfinders’ outputs, the report is initially presented in draft form. Please send us any comments between now and 31 January 2014.

    Despite our differences in size, research focus and open access infrastructure, we have all encountered extremely similar issues and challenges with delivering compliance with funders’ open access policies. This is no surprise given the broad consensus within the UK HEI sector that there is a need for substantial changes not only to authors’ behaviours, but also and critically to institutional systems, before compliance can be managed effectively. Key points emerging from this initial baselining exercise support work being done by Jisc, other groups, and institutions themselves:

    1. Departments and faculties need to be encouraged to take responsibility for compliance with open access mandates.
    2. Funders’ compliance reporting should be integrated with other author reporting, to reduce administration and inconsistencies.
    3. Repository, publications management and CRIS software must incorporate reporting requirements, including RIOXX and the forthcoming CASRAI profile (which includes additional fields required for REF reporting).
    4. Interim solutions should be adopted, in cooperation with publishers, to assist with REF compliance and to streamline APC processes.
    5. Automation needs to be introduced into Gold payment processes (especially metadata recording and licence checking) where possible.

    Read the full report here.

    Open access reporting

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 12 December 2014

    This week UCL hosted a meeting of London open access managers to discuss the work of the CASRAI working group on open access reporting.

    The working group is creating a data profile for open access reporting, in the form of an overview and a technical specification. It’ll be based in part on a spreadsheet that originated at Glasgow. The work is system-agnostic, but could be used as the basis of discussions with suppliers like Symplectic and PURE, and for incorporating new fields in repository software.

    The spreadsheet identifies fields required under different funders’ policies, including REF, Horizon 2020 and RCUK (COAF doesn’t appear on it at the moment, but is being added, as are the REF exceptions), as well as the fields in the RIOXX profile. Comments are welcome – please use the “Initial Comment” column for anything new (preferably adding your name, too).

    Issues that arose, either directly related to the work or more generally, included:

    • the need for clarity in funder requirements (CASRAI will be seeking further details from HEFCE on some fields)
    • the importance of synchronisation between CRIS/publications management systems and funder reporting systems
    • how fields might be populated (automation is preferable, though automated acceptance dates may prove challenging)
    • how institutions collect funder information (in repositories and in other systems)
    • problems with Green RCUK reporting, which is a very manual process (more on this in the UCL Pathfinder baseline report, coming shortly)

    Developing OA funding and advocacy services

    By Catherine L Sharp, on 17 November 2014

    The work of UCL’s Open Access Funding Team is highlighted in a new article just published in The Serials Librarian.

    The article sets out the methods that UCL has adopted to deliver open access funding and advocacy since the RCUK open access policy was introduced, focusing on administrative processes, staffing, publisher negotiation and advocacy.  The article supplements the figures for UCL’s RCUK open access compliance in our RCUK report (July 2014). This is an opportune time, because in the next few weeks our Pathfinder project will produce a baseline report on these activities, amongst others, in our three partner institutions (UCL, Nottingham and Newcastle).

    Things move fast in UK open access, of course, and the REF open access policy is now the cornerstone of our communication plan. At the same time, we’re continuing to develop our work to monitor compliance with the RCUK policy. We’re looking forward to comparing approaches on all these challenges with our Pathfinder partners over the coming months.

    Database for recording APC and publication charge data

    By Alan Bracey, on 30 October 2014

    We’ve recently been discussing methods of recording APC and publication charge data with other institutions, and have been sharing the Access database we’ve developed for the job (see the bottom of this post for a download link).

    Many institutions we’ve spoken to are looking for an alternative to using unwieldy spreadsheets that are unsuitable for capturing the large amount of data involved in each open access transaction. For example, we record bibliographic, financial, licence, funder, and author affiliation details, plus recording the various stages of payment and repository upload processes, as well as general notes and problems encountered.

    We’re planning to look at APC/publication charge data recording techniques in our Pathfinder project. We’ll be tying this in with our contributions to Jisc Monitor – we’re looking forward to the process and workflow modelling in the second sprint.

    At UCL we’ve been using our database for nearly 7 months now. It’s proved to be a good interim solution, and a vast improvement on using Excel. The database currently exists as a kind of advanced spreadsheet, with forms to make data input easier. A major benefit is that it allows all the members of our team to work with it simultaneously! It’s been a long time since we saw one of these:


    If you’re interested in taking a look, you can download a copy. Most of the records have been removed, but a few entries have retained as examples. These have been taken from data published to accompany our RCUK Report.

    We’re now considering how we can make improvements. The next steps will be to look at introducing relationships to allow us to upload financial data from payment reports generated by UCL’s finance system, and linking up publication charge with APC entries (which currently exist in separate tables).

    We’d love to hear any comments, feedback, or suggestions for improvements.