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These FAQ reflect the position as at 1 April 2013, and we will update them as open access policies evolve over the coming months. If you have any questions, or there is anything else on which you would like us to provide guidance, just email us at

What is open access?

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (2001) defined open access to research literature as follows: ‘By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited’.

Open access may encompass a variety of research outputs, including datasets, monographs, etc., but current policy in the UK is focused on journal articles and conference proceedings.

What is the difference between green and gold open access?

While there are various ways of achieving open access publication, the two main routes are green and gold. Under green open access, an article is usually published in a subscription journal and after an embargo period (currently between six and 24 months) the author is permitted to republish it in an institutional repository (IR), and indeed elsewhere. Authors have for some time been allowed to deposit pre-print versions of articles (as submitted, before peer review has been taken into account) in IRs, while the version of record remained that behind a journal subscription wall. It is this version of record which is made available under green open access.

Under the gold route, the author makes an upfront payment to a journal publisher to ensure immediate publication of his or her article on an open access basis. This payment is called an Article Processing Charge (APC), and may be met by the author’s host institution or a research funding body. The UK government and Research Councils UK (RCUK) have expressed a preference for the gold route.

Will I be affected by open access?

Yes, although the short-term impact will vary for different groups within the research community. All researchers will ultimately benefit from improved access to the research literature, free at the point of use. It is anticipated, however, that the transition to open access will take at least five years, so the effect will not be immediate.

From 1 April 2013, all articles derived from research funded by RCUK should be published on an open access basis, with a preference at the moment for the gold route. If you are an RCUK grant-holder, or working on an RCUK-funded project,, then you should ensure that you publish with a journal which supports open access (either gold, or green with an appropriate embargo period). The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has also indicated that it strongly supports a move to open access, and it has begun consultation about how this might be achieved after the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014. Should open access publication be made a condition of submission to the post-2014 REF, this will affect all research published by staff in UK Higher Education Institutions.

How do I find out if a journal offers open access publication?

By 1 April 2013, most of the major journals published in the UK will have updated their guidance notes for authors to indicate how they will be accommodating open access publication. Check on the journal/publisher website for details. The SHERPA/RoMEO database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving is also a very useful source of information, and is searchable by journal title, journal ISSN and publisher name. Given the speed with which these changes have been implemented, however, it may take some time for the new journal policies to filter through to databases of this type. Many internationally published journals will also be compliant with RCUK’s open access requirements, supporting either green or gold open access publication, but they are not, of course, bound by the 1 April deadline.

There are, in addition, many journals which are open access only. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a helpful reference tool here.

If you are in any doubt, contact the editors of the journal to check their position.

How do I access funding for Article Processing Charges?

According to RCUK’s revised guidelines on open access, ‘Funding for Open Access arising from Research Council-supported research will be available through a block grant awarded directly to research organisations’. The costs of publishing journal articles is no longer eligible to be included in funding applications themselves. The way in which the RCUK block grant is administered by qualifying HEIs is left to them to decide, so you will need to check with your departmental administrator or head of department in the first instance.

It is important to remember, however, that while RCUK strongly favours gold open access, you may also follow the green route. Indeed, during the transition to 100% open access, there will be insufficient funds allocated to UK HEIs fully to support the gold route. If all APC funding in your host institution has been exhausted, for example, you may simply follow the green route (with a 12-24 month embargo).

Independent researchers with no institutional affiliation are under no obligation to take account of the RCUK policy or guidelines. In particular, there is no need to worry about having to pay APCs. In the short to medium term, traditional publication in a subscription journal will continue to be an option, and it is expected that most journals will for some time to come be hybrids, supporting both gold and green OA and subscription.

The options available are perhaps most clearly explained in the Publishers Association decision tree, which has been accepted by RCUK.

What is a CC-BY licence?

For gold open access, RCUK requires that journal articles should be published under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence, in order to support the maximum dissemination and re-use of publicly funded research. This form of licensing allows modification of your work and commercial re-use. You must always, however, be credited as the author of that work.

For green open access, while RCUK would prefer authors to use a CC-BY licence, their only requirement is that there should be no restriction on non-commercial re-use and the use of a particular licence is not mandated. In such cases, publishers’ own licences are acceptable ‘provided they support the aims of the policy’.

What length of embargo period will be acceptable to RCUK?

RCUK is working towards a maximum embargo period of six months across all disciplines, but accepts that embargoes of this length ‘can be particularly difficult in the arts, humanities and social sciences’. Consequently, as an interim measure, 12-month embargo periods will be allowed for AHSS. However, during the transition to open access, in some instances embargo periods of 24 months will be accepted.

As above, the options available are perhaps most clearly explained in the Publishers Association decision tree, which has been accepted by RCUK.

Can I include a budget line for APCs in a research grant application to the AHRC/ESRC?

No, this is no longer an eligible cost when applying for funding to RCUK. APCs should be met from the block grant awarded to UK research organisations (see above). You may, however, still request funding for publication costs associated with other types of research output, including monographs, books, critical editions, volumes and catalogues.

There is a lot of discussion about journal articles, but what about other forms of publication?

For the moment RCUK policy is concerned only with journal articles and conference proceedings, and explicitly excludes other forms of publication, including books and monographs.

Is RCUK’s open access policy now fixed?

No, the details of the implementation are susceptible to change. The new open access guidelines state that ‘the journey to full Open Access is a process and not a single event’. RCUK is committed to consulting the research community, monitoring the impact of the policy, and gathering evidence to inform a review in 2014, with periodic reviews thereafter.