UKRI Open Access protocols: August 2021

by | Aug 11, 2021 | Guest Posts, RHS Publications, RHS Work | 0 comments

On 6 August, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) published its long-awaited report on its future approach to Open Access publishing. UKRI is the overarching body responsible for government research strategy and funding for universities in the UK. It brings together the seven disciplinary research councils, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council  (AHRC) — along with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) — with which many historians will be most familiar as a source of PhD and grant funding.

UKRI’s Report on Open Access protocols sets out its policy for the future accessibility of research, as funded by its research councils, and published in journal articles, monographs and edited collections.

Here, we review UKRI’s Open Access protocols: setting out their implications for historians, and — equally importantly — what remains unknown at this stage. (For a brief glossary of terms used, please see the foot of this page.)



Summary of the UKRI Report

UKRI have delivered their long-awaited response to their 2020 Open Access (OA) consultation. Their stated ambition at that time was to extend the OA policy with which we are all now familiar to monographs, book chapters, and edited collections. This brief post summarises the Royal Historical Society’s interpretation of UKRI’s new policy.

The headline is that monographs, book chapters and edited collections are now included in UKRI’s OA protocols. Publications in these forms emanating from UKRI-funded projects must be made available by Open Access, either on the publisher’s website or the author’s institutional repository, within twelve months of publication. UKRI will provide (unspecified) funding to support this initiative, and the following caveats apply:

  • it remains possible to publish monographs with presses not offering a Gold Open Access option, so long as they are the ‘appropriate’ publisher ‘after liaison and consideration’
  • trade books (as defined by author and publisher) are exempt from the policy, unless the book is the sole output from a UKRI research grant
  • third-party material, i.e. images or anything else to which author does not hold the rights, does not have to be OA, though we still lack clarity as to how this will work in practice
  • books deriving from PhD studentships are outside the policy
  • alternatives to Gold OA and to the CC BY licence are permitted
  • book chapters and edited collections are included in the policy on the same terms as monographs. The same exemptions apply, though the ‘trade’ exemption is less likely to be relevant to historians.

In addition, the policy reduces the embargo period for journal articles published via Green OA from the current 12-24 months to zero. Whilst most UK presses permit this, other international presses do not. It thus remains to be seen what impact this may have on UK historians who seek to publish with non-UK journal publishers.


The UKRI Open Access protocols, August 2021

A flurry of reportage on social media and elsewhere has greeted the long-awaited arrival on Friday 6 August of the latest UKRI Open Access protocols, the full text of which is linked as a separate document below. UKRI have explained the process and thinking behind these latest protocols in their own official ‘explanation of policy changes’ but here we seek to interpret them for historians and other colleagues in the arts and social sciences.


Please bear in mind that these changes will only affect those in receipt of UKRI funding from the AHRC or ESRC. The forthcoming REF Open Access review may well be (much) more resonant for our disciplines.


With that caveat, the general highlights of the UKRI protocols from an RHS perspective seem to be these.




1. Journal articles

Turning first to publications in journals, the policy here applies to ‘in-scope research articles’. ‘In-scope’ refers to peer-reviewed research articles. Non-peer reviewed articles, review articles, and conference proceedings are not included in the policy. For in-scope research articles, there are two routes to compliance:


Route 1

Is to publish the research article open access in a journal or publishing platform which makes the Version of Record (ie. the publisher’s final formatted and typeset version rather than the author’s unformatted version) immediately Open Access via its website. This maps onto the concept of Gold Open Access, with which many of you may be more familiar. UKRI will provide funding for Author Processing Charges (APCs) through a block grant, just as they do at present.


Route 2

Is to publish the research article in a subscription journal and deposit EITHER the Author Accepted Manuscript OR the Version of Record (where the publisher permits) in an institutional or subject repository at the time of final publication. This loosely corresponds to Green Open Access, though whereas this has hitherto operated with an embargo period, the policy now requires immediate Open Access to the deposited article. It is worth noting that some publishers, particularly outside the UK, do not currently permit a zero embargo period: authors will need to request this, which publishers will consider on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, submissions under Route 2 must include the following text in the funding acknowledgement section of the manuscript and any cover letter / note accompanying the submission: ‘For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising’.

Importantly (and in response to input from humanities and social science stakeholders), an exemption is permitted to the CC BY licence. CC BY ND (no derivatives) may be used where this can be justified by the author.


The UKRI Open Access Policy for in-scope research will apply to articles submitted for publication on or after 1 April 2022.







2. Monographs and edited collections

For the first time, UKRI are including monographs, book chapters, and edited collections of essays in their OA protocols. Of course, these different forms are not equivalent, so let us consider them separately. The Open Access monograph is certainly a new policy departure, but the protocol applies only to ‘in scope’ monographs and does permit exemptions to these. For the present, it appears that this will ensure that grant-holders continue to enjoy some latitude in deciding where to publish their monographs.


Importantly, the policy does not apply to recipients of ‘training grants’, or in other words doctoral funding.


For ‘in scope’ monographs, either the final Author Accepted Manuscript or the Version of Record must be free to view and download via an online publication platform, publishers’ website, or institutional repository within a maximum of 12 months of publication. The policy indicates that UKRI will undertake to provide financial support to support the anticipated charges of Open Access publishing, though the quantity and mechanism of such support are as yet undefined. Where the only appropriate publisher, ‘after liaison and consideration’, is unable to offer an Open Access option that complies with UKRI’s policy an exemption will be permitted. The policy provides flexibility on all Creative Commons licenses.

In addition to this exemption, not all books are considered to be ‘in scope’ of the policy. The major exception is ‘trade books’, a term that is not strictly defined. The UKRI protocols state that the decision of whether a book should be considered a trade book or an academic monograph is at the discretion of the author and publisher. If a trade book is the sole output of a UKRI funded project, it ceases to be ‘out of scope’; it becomes ‘in scope’ and the OA mandate applies.


Alongside monographs, book chapters and edited collections are now included in UKRI OA policy.


Grant-holders publishing project outputs as book chapters or edited volumes, are expected to find Open Access publishers willing to make the Version of Record freely and publicly available within twelve months of publication. The same funding mechanisms and the same exemption — where the only appropriate publisher, ‘after liaison and consideration’, is unable to offer a compliant open access option — apply.

Given the rarity of ‘trade’ edited collections, it appears that edited collections and book chapters will be bound more tightly to the OA mandate. Whilst the policy clarifies that monographs emanating from training grants are outside the policy, no mention is made of how book chapters or edited volumes emanating from UKRI-funded PhD research fit within the policy.


The policy applies to works published (not submitted) on or after 1 January 2024. Despite the longer timeframe for implementation, the long time-lines for both writing and publishing books mean that current grant-holders may still find themselves effectively drawn into the policy.


Readers may be heartened to hear that the following books lie outside the scope of the policy:

  • scholarly editions. Defined as an edition of another author’s original work or body of works informed by critical evaluation of the sources (such as earlier manuscripts, texts, documents and letters), often with a scholarly introduction and explanatory notes or analysis on the text and/or original author
  • exhibition catalogues
  • scholarly illustrated catalogues
  • textbooks
  • alll types of fictional works and creative writing.


In summary, the policy on long-form publications contains some welcome pragmatic flexibility, not least in that it is now up to authors and their publishers to decide whether a work is an academic monograph or a trade book. Long-form publications are allowed a broader range of CC licences beyond just CC BY, reflecting in part some of the anxieties expressed by strong OA advocates about perceived ‘abuse’ of CC BY by exploitative commercial reprinters.

As indicated above, there is still quite a lot that we don’t know, and some deliberate ambiguity remains: the ‘Shaping Our Open Access Policy’ pages of the UKRI website are now available and clearly a good deal remains to be worked out. Some limited financial information is now given, with the allocation of specific monies in support of Open Access monographs, but quite how all this will bed down in the months and years to come at the level of specific institutions remains to be seen.



Open Access and the next REF

As noted, Open Access protocols are yet to be agreed for the next REF exercise and these will impact more profoundly upon the generality of UK-based historians. However, as we have all come to understand, Open Access does not mean ‘free’; it involves shifting the cost of turning research into publication from the reader to the producer. UKRI provides funding for these costs, whereas the REF framework does not.

It is thus far from evident how these recommendations could be extended to the non-UKRI funded research undertaken by the majority of academic historians.

As UKRI note: ‘Most Research England funding is deployed by universities at their discretion and is not intended to lead to specified outputs. In such cases, outputs cannot be attributed directly to Research England funding and no acknowledgement of Research England funding is expected or necessary. Such outputs are therefore out of scope of the UKRI Open Access policy.’ In other words, those without UKRI funding lie squarely outside this policy framework, and the phrasing used here suggests they will remain so for the foreseeable future.




Compilation of this review

This blog post has been compiled by the following present and past officers of the Society: Margot Finn, Richard Fisher, Emma Griffin and Peter Mandler. Colleagues with specific questions arising should in the first place contact Philip Carter, RHS Academic Director:


Further reading and links


Brief glossary of terms used in this post

(Drawn principally from the 2019 RHS Report ‘Plan S and the History Journal Landscape’, pp. 75-77)

AAM (Author Accepted Manuscript): the version of a scholarly article that has been accepted for publication by a journal but has not yet been copy-edited by the journal or its publisher.

APC (Article Processing Charge): A fee charged by some journals to enable content (typically the Version of Record) to be published with full and immediate OA. A charge for an OA monograph is known as a Book Processing Charge (BPC).

CC BY: a Creative Commons licence that stipulates ‘Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works and remixes based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits (attribution) in the manner specified by these.’

CC BY NC: A Creative Commons licence by which ‘Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works and remixes based on it only for noncommercial purposes.’

CC BY ND: a Creative Commons licence by which ‘Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works and remixes based on it.’

Embargo: the period between publication of the Version of Record of an article and publication/release of an Author Accepted Manuscript deposited in a repository. Zero embargo: typically refers to the OA publication / release of the self-archived AAM simultaneously with the publication of the VoR (with the VoR typically remaining behind a paywall, for an interval or indefinitely).

Gold: ‘Gold’ OA  refers to article content in hybrid journals that has been published OA with zero embargo in its Version of Record format. Typically, ‘Gold’ OA requires payment of an APC.

Green: ‘Green’ OA: (also known as ‘Self-archiving’ or ‘self-deposit’) is deposit by an author (hence, ‘self’) of the Author Accepted Manuscript or (less often) Version of Record of a scholarly output in an OA repository. Access to a repository may be determined by an embargo period following publication.

Hybrid: a hybrid journal is a subscription-based journal that offers open access publication as an option for authors of specific articles, typically requiring an APC to be paid in such cases.

Monograph: ‘a long-form publication which communicates an original contribution to academic scholarship on one topic or theme and is designed for a primarily academic audience; an academic monograph may be written by one or more authors’. 

OA (open access): OA publication entails access to digital content (for example, scholarly articles) that is freely available to the reader without payment of a subscription or other access fee.

REF (Research Excellence Framework): a periodic assessment of research quality undertaken by Research England on behalf of UKRI and the 3 (Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh) devolved funding bodies by Research England. REF exercises typically occur every 6-7 years. The current REF, REF2021, accepted submissions in November 2020 and will report its findings in December. The REF exercise is undertaken by Research England (one of the councils within UKRI) on behalf of English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh university funding bodies.

Repository: an online repository, typically funded and maintained by a university or other research organisation (or, in the case of the Wellcome Trust, by a funder) that is designed to hold and give access to research outputs. Some content in repositories is made available by full and immediate OA. Other content is held for a period or indefinitely under an embargo.

UKRI (UK Research & Innovation): The overarching body responsible for government research strategy and funding for universities (among other research organisations) in the UK.

VoR (Version of Record): The official version of a research output (for example, a scholarly article). For History outputs, crucially, the VoR has been copy-edited, corrected, typeset, proofed by the publisher and author and published in a format that allows future citation. In History, a key characteristic that allows scholarly citation from the VoR is stable pagination.


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