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Open Access Policy Review

We are currently reviewing our open access policy for peer-reviewed research publications to make sure it works for the breadth of NIHR’s portfolio and our broad stakeholder community. Open access makes published academic research freely and permanently available online to read and reuse. Open access maximises the academic, societal and economic impact of research, and enhances the integrity and rigour of research through greater openness and transparency.

 As part of this review, we have been working closely with our stakeholder community. 

NIHR Open Access Policy Review stakeholder survey is now closed

In Autumn 2020 , we consulted on opportunities and barriers of open access, strengths and weaknesses of the current NIHR open access policy and gathered specific feedback on proposed policy options.

Thank you to everyone who responded to the survey. We have received more than 400 responses from a wide range of stakeholder groups. We intend to use the findings of this survey to help shape our future open access policy.

Capturing public, carer, patient, service user and lay perspectives

We seek to ensure that the public are at the centre of health and care research culture and systems. We recognise that public voices have not always been central to debates about open access publishing in health and care research, despite strong public interest in access to research findings - as funders, advocates, research contributors and participants, evidence users and beneficiaries.

In October 2020 we held virtual workshops for public contributors to tell us what they think. The workshops explored how the public, patients, carers and service users feel about research being made openly available immediately. We would like to thank all the public contributors who participated in these workshops for their valuable contributions. A summary of the findings of the workshops will be published shortly and they will be used to shape the development of the NIHR’s Open Access Policy. The findings will also contribute to the evidence base on public opinion on this topic.

Further information about Open Access and the policy review

We support the fundamental principles that published outputs derived from publicly funded research should be:

  • made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely, rapidly and effectively as possible
  • preserved and remain accessible for future generations
  • published through models and mechanisms that are cost effective in the use of public funds

The Government’s recent R&D Roadmap has reiterated its commitment to open access. Open access means making research publications freely available so anyone can benefit from reading and using research. Open access can be more than making research available to read, but also allowing others to re-use that research. For example, allowing the content to be analysed using text mining or reused for commercial purposes.

Open access ensures the rapid and open dissemination of NIHR-funded research findings to a wide group of our stakeholders: researchers, students, service users/patients, carers, health and care professionals, policy makers, life sciences industry and the general public.

We recognise that there are various routes to disseminating research findings  - publishing peer-reviewed research articles being just one of these. We support a diversity of dissemination approaches to ensure that NIHR-funded research achieves maximal societal, academic and economic impact. 

Alongside this open access policy review, we are reviewing our processes and policies to ensure responsible and fair approaches for research assessment and decision making.

Our current open access policy for peer-reviewed research articles came into force in 2014. In 2018, a review was instigated to examine the clarity and effectiveness of the policy and whether it is fit for the future. We have been gathering evidence from a wide variety of sources and closely engaging with both internal and external stakeholders. In the same year, an initiative called Plan S was launched by a consortium of research funders, cOAlition S, to make all publicly funded, peer-reviewed research publications immediately and freely open access to the reader. While we have published a supporting statement for the aims and goals of Plan S, final decisions on NIHR open access policy will be informed by the full findings of the ongoing review.

We have a significant portfolio of Global Health Research which supports high-quality applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), using Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. To address specific open access opportunities and challenges for this community, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in collaboration with ourselves and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), commissioned an independant consultation to explore the impact of open access on ODA funding and stakeholders in LMICs

Core elements of proposed Open Access policy


In scope

 Our policy exploration is based on a scope that includes peer reviewed research articles (the final version of record or the author’s accepted manuscript) that result from a majority NIHR funded project. The scope includes primary research articles, review articles not commissioned by publishers, final reports or executive summaries.

Out of scope

Monographs (with the exception of NIHR Journals Library publications), book chapters, edited collections, or forms of non-peer-reviewed material, such as pre-prints, are considered out of scope of this policy.

Timing of implementation

We propose that the new NIHR OA policy will apply to NIHR awards which begin on or after 1 April 2022. In considering when the policy might apply, we are seeking to balance advancing full and immediate access to the research NIHR funds with providing adequate time for stakeholders to adapt to a new policy.

Policy principles

Principle 1 - publications must be accessible and open immediately

All in scope publications must be available online as soon as they are published, without any embargo period.

Principle 2 - there should be no barriers to the re-use and dissemination of NIHR publications

All publications should be published under the Creative Commons attribution licence (CC-BY), or Open Government Licence (OGL) to ensure maximum impact. This will permit all users of NIHR funded publications to disseminate and build upon the material for any purpose without further permission or fees being required.

Principle 3 - publications must be freely discoverable

All publications should be freely discoverable to those that may wish to research, share and use the outcomes of our published research, including patients, service users, carers and the public. This includes machine readability and accessibility to ensure full utility of NIHR publications.

Principle 4 - NIHR will pay reasonable fees

When an OA payment is applicable, for example an Article Processing Charge (APC), we will pay reasonable fees required by a publisher to effect publication in line with the criteria of this policy for all in scope publications expected to stem from an NIHR award.