The draft guidance on submissions for the 2021 REF

Earlier in July, the document, “Draft Guidance on Submissions” for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework was released for consultation. As the announcement stated, the document sets out the draft framework and generic criteria for assessment in the 2021 REF; specifies the content, data requirements, and related definitions for submissions to the REF; and guides HEI on policy and practical matters in preparing submissions. The community has been invited to participate in the consultation via an online survey, available on the website, by the 15th of October 2018.

The draft is a heavy tome of 138 pages, and areas of it are of some concern to those of us working in the areas of Open Access and Open Science, and particularly those of us focusing on research and the research lifecycle. Annex K is a handy “Output glossary and collection formats”, which underscores that “all research outputs must meet the definition of research for the REF. For the purposes of the REF, research is defined as ‘a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.’” As expected, research outputs must be made open access in order to be put forward for the REF and the draft stresses that “the outputs should be deposited, discoverable, free to read, download, and search within, by anyone with an internet connection. The funding bodies recommend that institutions fully consider the extent to which authors currently retain or transfer the copyright of works published by their researchers, as part of creating a healthy research environment.” Nonetheless, there were a few things we thought were important enough to adumbrate to our community here.

  • Authors and institutions should feel comfortable acting on the information provided by SHERPA in meeting REF 2021 open access requirements, and should not undertake additional work to verify this information (Para 113).

This is specifically about SHERPA REF, which is currently still in Beta; however, it has been noted that in terms of its testing abilities, it is 95% accurate on average and in most instances, it was above 98% accurate. We encourage the community to use SHERPA REF early and often as they are moving forward with REF requirements, because it is a very simple and friendly interface, and you are able to find out in just a few clicks if the journal in which you wish to publish (or have published in) allows you to comply with the REF requirements for open access to research.

  • … there are measures and exceptions which have been developed to provide a degree of tolerance of non-compliance.
    • For each submission, a maximum of five per cent of in-scope outputs that do not meet the policy requirement or do not have an exception applied can be submitted (Para 221)

In many instances, these exceptions still cover issues of depositing into an appropriate repository, but it does make clearer what may be an exception over and above those which were outlined in the post-2014 REF guidance.

  • Institutions may submit pre-prints as eligible outputs to REF 2021 (see Annex K). Only outputs which have been ‘accepted for publication’ (such as a journal article or conference contribution with an ISSN) are within scope of the REF 2021 open access policy (Para 228)

This will be a welcome announcement to many researchers, since pre-prints are a key component of both Open Access and Open Peer Review; however, please note that the research output needs to have been already accepted for publication if it is going to be eligible.

  • The following exceptions deal with cases where the output is unable to meet the deposit requirements. In the following cases, the output will not be required to meet any of the open access criteria (deposit, discovery or access requirements).
    • At the point of acceptance, it was not possible to secure the use of a repository (Para 242)

We wanted to highlight this point, because there are still some institutions who are having considerable difficulty getting their researchers to deposit into their own institutional repositories; there are also some institutions which do not have their own repositories. We wanted to alert the community that to facilitate this obstacle, there is the CERN-hosted Zenodo repository, which is a certified open repository and therefore helps with compliance for deposit.

  • In addition to printed academic work, research outputs may include, but are not limited to: new materials, devices, images, artefacts, products and buildings; confidential or technical reports; intellectual property, whether in patents or other forms; performances, exhibits or events; work published in non-print media. An underpinning principle of the REF is that all forms of research output will be assessed on a fair and equal basis. Sub-panels will not regard any particular form of output as of greater or lesser quality than another per se (Para 208)

It’s easy to see here that the authors are contending with the arguments surrounding the Impact Factor, and we share their cautiousness about thinking that it can be disregarded, either wholly or in part. We encourage other forms of evaluation other than the IF, but we are also aware, as are many in the community, that it’s difficult not to see it as a quick and reliant method for evaluation. We also encourage the community to voice its concerns and encourage the uptake of other metrics for evaluation.

Included in the links above are the executive summary and the types of questions which  the feedback survey asks. Although not everything to do with open access necessarily pertains to the upcoming REF, this is an important time to voice any ideas and concerns we have regarding this important document. It’s important to note that, as a draft, it is a work in progress and liable to change as feedback starts to come in and the authors continue to edit and revise.

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