What is meant by the term Open Access:

  • Open access is free, unrestricted online access to the outputs of research.
  • Open access material can be in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, theses, scholarly monographs and research data.
If a journal article or other research output is open access it means that, by the consent of the author or copyright-holder, it can be freely accessed using an internet connection.

There are two main ways by which Open Access can be achieved, commonly known as Green and Gold Open Access.

Green Route (also known as Self Archiving):

A version of the published research paper as accepted for publication including all changes resulting from peer review, is archived and made accessible in an online repository (often an institutional or subject repository).  The journal's publisher may specify an embargo period before the output can be made openly available by the repository. There is no fee associated with this.

Gold Open Access

Access to the published research paper is provided by the publisher via the journal's own website immediately at the time of on-line publication.  This may involve payment of an 'Article Processing Charge' (APC) to the publisher.

There are two types of Gold Open Access publishing:

a.  The publisher operates a subscription model for the journal but also offers an Open Access option for individual articles (usually on payment of an APC).  This is often known as a hybrid journal.  

b.  Open Access journal.  This means that the publisher does not use the subscription model and all articles are published Open Access.

You may also come across two other ways of describing Open Access:

Gratis - the publication is free to read.

Libre - the publication is free to read and the copyright holder (usually the author or publisher) allows certain re-use rights.


To find more open access repositories see the Directory of Open Access Repositories (openDOAR) which lists known repositories worldwide.


The open access repository for research output from the MBA, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS)

Funded research

A number of Research Councils are mandating that outputs from funded research are being made available Open Access. Links to Open Access mandates below:

UKRI (previously RCUK)

The RCUK policy on open access came into force in April 2013.  It covers all peer-reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings that arise from (in whole or part) and acknowledge RCUK funding, including funding received by students.

The policy has a preference for immediate open access to the paper via the publisher’s website (gold open access). Publishing “gold” in most cases requires payment of an APC. If an APC is being paid, RCUK require the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) Licence.  Note that other Creative Commons licences (including the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence, CC BY-NC) and many publisher custom licences (including the licence used by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) do not meet the RCUK requirements.

The policy does also allow papers to be made open access following the green (self-archiving) route.  In these cases they apply maximum embargo periods.  Broadly, these are 6 months for STEM subjects. 

Authors are also required to include a statement saying how the data supporting the publication can be accessed, eg through a data centre or repository, or on application to the author(s).

RCUK grants should be acknowledged in papers using the full name of the research council followed by the grant number in brackets, eg : “This work was supported by the Medical Research Council (grant number XXX).” Further guidance on acknowledging funders.

NERC Fellows: NERC fellows are required to publish any published peer reviewed paper at the earliest opportunity in a repository.

Read the full RCUK Open Access policy here.

Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust has long been a strong supporter of open access to publications and is in the position to provide sufficient financial resource to cover the costs of open access where necessary.

The policy covers journal articles, book chapters and monographs.  These need to be made available through PubMed Central and Europe PMC (for journal articles) or PMC Bookshelf and Europe PMC (for monographs and book chapters) as soon as possible and no longer than 6 months after publication.

Wherever possible, outputs should be made open access immediately in their final published form.  Journal articles must be published under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence if an open access fee is paid, and is strongly encouraged in all other cases. Costs for open access fees cannot be included in grants. 

Read the full Wellcome Trust Open Access policy here.

European Funding 

Research funded by the European Commission announced from 2014 onwards will have to be made Open Access via either the Green route (depositing the author version in Plymsea)  or Gold route to open access. For science subjects papers must be available through one of these routes within 6 months of publication.

The Commission will provide Funds to support Gold open access publishing so long as they are included in the original. For projects funded under FP7 costs can be met by retrospective application until 28 February 2018.

Open access to scientific publications is a general principle of Horizon 2020.  All articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to either:

  • immediately be made accessible online by the publisher.  Up-front publication costs can be eligible for reimbursement by the European Commission;
  • or researchers will make their articles available through an open access repository no later than six months after publication.

A similar approach to access to research data is now also being piloted.  

The Commission does not mandate the use of specific licences but encourages  authors  to  retain  their  copyright  and  grant  adequate licences to publishers.

Read the full EC Open Access policy here.

Guidelines to the Rules on Open Access to Scientific Publications and Open Access to Research Data in Horizon 2020

Guidance for Open Access in projects funded by Seventh Framework Programme

Other funders

Many other funders have requirements around whether outputs arising from research they fund need to be made open access or not. Detailed information on this will be included in the grant award.

An easy way to get an overview of your funder’s open access requirements is to consult the SHERPA/JULIET database. This website provide a searchable list of all major research funders' policies on open access availability of work they fund.  It covers both UK and international funders, including charities, funding councils and research councils, and some industry-based funders.

If you do not have any external funding, or your external funding cannot be used to cover open access costs, you will still be able to make your article open access using the green route to open access, by uploading a copy of the full text of the publication to Plymsea.

There is no centralised Open Access fund at our institutions.

You could also investigate the publisher’ (or journal’s) waiver policy.  You may be required to provide evidence around lack of funds, so again it is best to find out about this before you submit. Alternatively, if the paper is being co-authored funds might be available from co-author’s institutions.