What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) refers to making research outputs freely available online with limited restrictions over reuse. Open access aims to break down many of the access barriers to academic research, particularly making outputs available to a wider range of researchers across the world, as well as students, policy-makers, practitioners, journalists, businesses, and members of the wider public. UWL supports open access to enhance the visible and impact of UWL research.

What is open access?

Open access publications are research outputs that are freely accessible on the internet. The traditional model for access to academic research is to only allow access for researchers and students whose university has purchased the physical or electronic copies of particular books and journals. Often, for journals this is through a subscription to a package of a publisher's electronic journals. Instead, open access makes work freely available to all via the internet.

There are two main kinds of open access: green and gold.

Green Gold
Payment involved No Yes (usually)
Can I deposit in a repository? Yes (usually) Yes
Version of publication Author's accepted manuscript Final published version
Availability After embargo period Immediately

Green open access refers to making research outputs available via an institutional or subject repository, such as the UWL Repository. The version of the research output that is usually made open access via the green route is the 'author's accepted manuscript' (i.e. the final refereed draft manuscript) rather than the final copy-edited and typeset published version. The only major difference is the appearance of the article; the substantive content will be the same as the final version as it has been peer-reviewed and approved for publication.

This route to open access involves no fee. An embargo period is usually imposed by published (usually 6 or 12 months following the date of publication, but sometimes up to 24 months), during which time the full text cannot be made available to download in a repository. However, after this time period, the research output is freely available to access.

Gold open access usually involves the payment of a fee (APC or Article Processing Charge) to a publisher. The publisher then makes the article, chapter or book freely accessibly, immediately upon publication and directly on their website. Publishers usually assign a Creative Commons license to the publication, allowing for the reproduction and certain other reuses of the output without the user needing to seek permission.

The fee paid to the publisher can vary hugely. The average fee for an article is around £1,800, whereas a whole book may cost between £6,000-12,000. UWL does not manage funds for gold open access, although there are a number of ways you might be able to cover these charges (see our open access FAQ). Making your work open access can be free if you use a repository, such as the UWL Repository.

Green open access is supported by HEFCE's policy on open access for the next REF, and is supported by UWL through the UWL Repository.

Open access publications

Most publishers support both the green and gold routes to open access. Many journals will allow you to pay an APC to make your work open access immediately upon publication (gold), or afford you the right to deposit your work in a repository (green). These journals are known as 'hybrid journals' as they publish a mixture of content that can only be accessed by those who have bought access (e.g. via a university library subscription) and open access articles where an APC has been paid. Most major publishers of books also offer open access options (gold and green) for full-length books and book chapters.

There are a range of journals which only publish open access articles, more strictly termed 'open access journals'. Major open access journals include the PLOS journals, a range of Nature Publishing Group journals (e.g. Nature Communications, Scientific Reports), BioMed Central and eLIFE journals.

A myth in the earlier days of open access, but one that often persists, is that open access equates with lower quality research. That is not necessarily true, as articles (of whatever quality) can be made open access even if they are not published in open access journals by making use of a repository.

The Directory of Open Access Journals provides a list of reputable open access journals. If you are unsure about the quality of a journal, whether open access or not, you can use Think.Check.Submit., a website which helps you to choose the right journal for your research.

If you would like to locate an open access version of an article that is published in a subscriber-only journal, which you do not have access to, you can search the author's own university repository to see whether they have deposited their work there. The Open Access Button website can also be used to locate open access articles. This resource allows you do enter the DOI (digital object identifier, often found on articles' webpage on the publisher's website) or weblink for an article and it will crawl the web to find the article in an open access repository.

How to publish gold open access

  • If you have made provision for open access publishing within a research grant, you may be able to cover the Article Processing Charge for gold open access from those funds
  • Another option is to consider asking a co-author if their institution may cover the APC

If any of these routes are not available, using the UWL Repository, you can make most articles, conference papers and book chapters available open access after any applicable embargo period. Please see our information on publishers' copyright policies for further information.

Benefits of open access

To read about the many benefits of open access, please see the open access guidance on the Library webpage.