All posts by Alexia Sutton

Open Access and REF 2021: “Is This Article Non-Compliant?”

By Dr Debbie Hansen, Senior Open Access Adviser, Office of Scholarly Communication

Through much of this REF period, there has been a focus on encouraging Cambridge authors to deposit their accepted manuscripts into our institutional repository.  The Open Access Team has tackled the sometimes tricky tasks of making sure the right version has been deposited with the correct embargo, advising on funders’ open access requirements and managing the payments for gold open access from the UKRI and COAF block grants. 

With the REF period ending, the University is now finalising lists of research outputs to be submitted to REF2021. Alongside this activity, some members of the Open Access Team have been focussing on compliance indicators for the REF open access policy. In Symplectic Elements, the University’s research information management system, all journal or conference articles which fall within the period of the REF open access policy are labelled as either Compliant or Non-compliant.   

Unfortunately, from an administrative point of view, this is not as straightforward as it may seem (but it is fortunate for compliance).  This compliance indicator is set automatically from calculations using the acceptance, first publication and deposit dates as well as the repository embargo lift date.  It is, if you like, a first-pass indicator.  ‘Non-compliant’ articles may end up as being compliant or REF eligible as they may, for example: 

  1. have gaps in their metadata such as missing acceptance or publication dates; 
  2. have incorrect publication dates in the external metadata records (one article can have around 10 separate metadata records (e.g. from Scopus, Crossref, Europe PMC, etc.) and Elements takes the earliest publication date from all the metadata records associated with an article.  01/01/YYYY is a common red herring where only the year of publication (YYYY) has been recorded and the month and day fields have been automatically filled with a default value);  
  3. have embargo lift dates greater than 12 months from first publication (Panel C and D articles can have embargo lengths of up to 24 months but the system does not recognise this); 
  4. be compliantly deposited in a different non-commercial open access repository; 
  5. be eligible for one of the REF exceptions to the policy; 
  6. be published gold open access and so do not need to be deposited in a repository to fulfil the REF open access criteria. 

If an article is showing as non-compliant, it generally requires individual investigation by a team member.  However, as has been raised in previous blogs, we try to develop processes to balance staff resources against the sheer numbers of articles.  For this problem, I will mention two tools we have been using to address in bulk three common article scenarios: missing acceptance or publication dates, deposited in another repository and published gold open access. 

Missing acceptance or publication dates 

Acceptance dates are not always openly provided by a journal or conference and some publication dates can be hard to find (e.g. for some humanities, arts and social science journals) or have been missed for some other reason.  In these instances, the author may be able to help.  For example, they may be able to check past correspondence with the journal or with co-authors.  

Our colleagues in the University Research Information Office, Agustina Martínez-García and Owen Roberson, developed an internal, simple to use tool, aptly named LastMinute.CAM1.  This tool uses an article’s Elements identifier to create an article-customised form that can be sent to an author to request missing information.  The form is pre-populated with article title and other information already held about an article (e.g. it’s digital object identifier (DOI)) and the author can fill in missing acceptance or publication dates.  Once the form is submitted, the data populates a new record for the article in Symplectic Elements and the data is used, alongside all the other data for that article for the compliance calculations.  We have tried to use LastMinute.CAM for this purpose on a considered basis (we do not wish to contact authors unnecessarily) and have attempted to resolve the issue of missing dates, and links to articles in other repositories (next section), in this way for hundreds of papers via mail merge lists. 

Article deposited in another repository 

Some authors have been contacted with the LastMinute.CAM form because their article was deposited late in Apollo, or there is no deposit at all, but their article may be compliant in another repository (e.g. deposited by a co-author at another university).  LastMinute.CAM is integrated with Unpaywall: the application searches Unpaywall data via its Application Programming Interface (API) and records in the form the link to the preferred open access location, together with the article version if available.  A recipient of the form can accept this, or remove it (they may know it was not compliantly deposited) or amend the repository link and version already populated in the form with an alternative.   

Having a link to an article in another repository is of course a first step.  A team member will need to check the link (we have found URLs to non-repository web pages) and investigate whether the article is compliantly deposited in the other repository.  However, when we do find a compliant deposit, this source is already recorded for us, removing some of the legwork we would otherwise need to do to complete our records. 

Article published gold open access 

Unpaywall has also been a great tool for identifying articles that have been published open access through the gold route.  The Unpaywall Simple Query Tool accepts a list of up to 1000 DOIs and returns a report of the open access status of the article associated with each DOI.  We do need to analyse the results carefully and discard, for example, those made open through the accepted manuscript and the green route, published versions without an open licence (bronze open access) and those published with an open licence but only after a defined time delay.  Once we are happy with the cleaned list this can be used as input to an Elements API script (also developed by Agustina Martínez-García) to bulk annotate articles that have been identified as being published as gold open access.  To date we have identified over 1000 articles in this way. 


Henceforth we plan to run the gold OA bulk ‘exception’ process monthly and have in the background the option to use LastMinute.CAM further to gather missing information via targeted mail shots to authors.  We will also be addressing in an automated way those articles that were compliantly deposited and with the correct embargo applied but not recognised as compliant by the system due to a ‘perceived’ too-long embargo.  These activities will leave a far more manageable set of articles, showing as non-compliant, for which more detailed investigations into why articles are being labelled non-compliant can be made and action taken (such as the application of eligible REF exceptions) as appropriate. 

One final comment, once the submission to REF has been made there will be a period of reflection. Effective tools, like those mentioned here, that help with making our processes more efficient will feature in this review.  This review will help to define our future activities in this space.  

1 This tool is only available internally to University of Cambridge researchers, and is not indexed in Google or any search engine 

Open Access for Librarians: Putting Together the Puzzle

Claire Sewell, Research Support Librarian, Betty & Gordon Moore Library

This Open Access week I’ve been reflecting back on my time training library staff in research support. As anyone working in this area will know, an understanding of the principles of open access is key to getting to grips with many of the issues covered by the scholarly communications remit so it’s important that librarians get a good grasp of the basics. Open access is a topic rich in terminology and interconnected concepts which can make teaching it a little bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with no finished image to guide you. Many introductory sessions begin with an overview of what open access actually means – the process of making the outputs of funded research available online for anyone to read. So far, so simple but even this assumes some knowledge of the current academic publishing system. I often need to spend longer talking about this than I had planned before we can move onto the rest of the session and the pauses don’t stop there. Outlining the importance of open access involves explaining the REF, describing the practicalities means defining what we mean by a repository and describing the different types of OA can be hard when your audience don’t understand the concept of an embargo. 

No two audiences are ever the same as everyone has a different view of the finished picture and I need to be able to provide them with the pieces they need to complete their own OA puzzle. As a result, every session has to be adaptable to the needs of the people in the room. Whilst I still have an overall plan for any open access session, I find it’s a good idea to have some small pre-prepared slides or activities which embed key concepts that I can include if needed. I’ve also come to the realisation that it doesn’t matter which order you place your slides in as you will have to shuffle through them at random as your audience asks questions! This is not always a bad thing as it keeps me on my toes and improves my practice.  

The most common questions I get are detailed below: 

  1. Definitions of various terms – audiences need to know what things such as embargoes, repositories, author accepted manuscript and APC are, but it can be hard to explain one without an understanding of some element of another. Having some type of primer on hand can really help people to understand the language you’re using. 
  2. Manuscript versions – something a lot of people struggle with is which version of a manuscript is which and how this impacts sharing via OA. I find that a visual representation offers the best explanation and often rely on this graphic from our OA FAQs – something I’ve been told makes all the difference. 
  3. Practicalities of OA – this will vary between institutions but a common question is how you actually go through the process of making outputs open. If you can, building in time for a demonstration and/or some hands-on experience can really help learners to understand the process and find all sorts of tricky problems for you to explain! 

So, the message is – no matter who your audience is, it pays to be flexible. Much like the rest of the open access landscape one size definitely does not fit all! 

Preparing for the end of COAF

The Open Access team are getting ready for the end of Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), which is due to dissolve on 30th September 2020.  

From 1st October 2020 onward, there are going to be changes to the block grants that we receive, and as a result, there will be a change in our policies on whether or not we can cover researchers’ article processing charges (APCs).  

We have outlined how researchers should go about securing funding for the APC’s below: 

Funder name Are article processing charges covered by a block grant? How do I pay for my article processing charge? 
UKRI Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Wellcome Trust Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Cancer Research UK Yes No change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
British Heart Foundation YesNo change: researchers should continue to upload their paper to us for a funding decision
Blood Cancer UK No- authors must include cost in their grant application  1. For payment, contact
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Parkinson’s UK No- authors must include cost in their grant application  1. For payment, contact,
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Versus Arthritis No – authors must request support direct from funder  1. Use funder’s Grant Tracker for OA support,
2. Upload your paper to ensure REF compliance. 
Multiple funders acknowledged  If your paper includes funding from UKRI, Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK or British Heart Foundation then we may be able to help with the APC. Researchers should upload their paper to us for a funding decision

There is no change in the funder’s open access policies for the rest of 2020. However, there are significant changes due in 2021, specifically to Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.  

We have outlined the policy changes in the table below: 

Funder name Change? Outline of policy 
Wellcome Trust Changesee new policy document   1. Policy covers original research articles, 
2. Policy applies to papers submitted for publication after 1/1/2021, 
3. Papers must be made immediately open access (no embargo allowed) in Europe PMC, 
4. Papers must be published with a CC BY licence, 
5. Papers must be published in a journal that is indexed in DOAJ (Wellcome will no longer cover APCs for subscription journals)
6. The authors must retain their copyright. 
Cancer Research UK Changesee new policy document 1. Policy covers original research articles, 
2. Policy applies to all papers after 1/1/2021, 
3. Papers must be made immediately open access (no embargo allowed) in Europe PMC,
4. Papers must be published with a CC BY licence. 
Multiple funders acknowledged  Any papers acknowledging Wellcome Trust or Cancer Research UK must be compliant in order to access funds. 

To summarise:

From 1 October 2020, authors should continue to submit their papers to the Open Access Team as usual via our website. The Open Access Team will continue to advise on the best course of action to meet funder requirements, but we may not always be able to pay APCs. 

The funders’ policies remain the same until 1st January 2021. We advise authors covered by Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK to familiarise themselves with the changes to their funder’s open access policies, which are outlined in COAF’s table