You need cookies enabled to use this website.
For the current REF, see the REF 2029 website | For REF 2014, see the REF 2014 website
You need cookies enabled

The agreement will reduce burden for researchers submitting outputs for assessment and provide assurance that outputs are handled in accordance with copyright. It will also increase efficiency for the REF assessment panels and save public money that would otherwise have been spent on fees.

PLS will facilitate electronic access to up to 200,000 journal articles and other research outputs for assessment by more than 800 panellists across 34 units of assessment in the course of the REF 2021.

The REF, which is managed by Research England on behalf of the UK’s four higher education funding bodies, is the system for assessing the quality of research and is critically important to the higher education sector. The UK funding bodies will use the results of periodic REF exercises to inform allocation of government investment in research worth around £2 billion per year.

PLS will request publishers’ support for the assessment by agreeing to provide electronic access to their publications and to waive fees, enabling the REF team to overcome the logistical and financial challenges of an assessment on this scale. REF 2021 has the support of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and the Publishers Association (PA) and of publishers in the UK and abroad.

In addition, the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) - on behalf of PLS, the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS), the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) and the Picture Industry Collecting Society for Effective Licensing (PICSEL) - is providing a royalty-free licence to allow copyright-compliant storage and reuse of the materials for the purpose of the REF 2021 assessment.

This approach will build on the success of this work for REF 2014. PLS were able to obtain the support of over 400 publishers worldwide, representing about 98% of all publishers approached, which enabled more than 97% of journal articles submitted to be accessed in this way.

Sarah Faulder, Chief Executive of PLS commented:

“I am pleased that PLS has once again been invited to broker access to and use of published outputs for the purpose of REF 2021. This is a very important exercise to which publishers are committed, as our past experience has shown.”

Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, and Chair of the REF 2021 Steering Group said:

“I am very grateful for publishers’ support for the REF process through this agreement. This is a welcome and important milestone in the process towards REF 2021. The agreement with PLS will enable the REF team to provide REF panel members with easy and seamless access to the outputs submitted for assessment.”


  • The four UK funding bodies are the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Research England, and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).
  • Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) (formerly the Publishers Licensing Society) represents the interests of publishers in the collective licensing of photocopying and digital copying from books, journals and magazines. PLS also provides other services to the sector including the management of the free Access to Research service in public libraries and a permissions clearance service (PLS Permissions). Together with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) and the Picture Industry Collecting Society for Effective Licensing (PICSEL), PLS owns and directs the Copyright Licensing Agency. PLS is itself owned by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the Independent Publishers Guild, the Professional Publishers Association, and the Publishers Association.
  • The Copyright Licensing Agency Limited (CLA) was set up in 1983 by ALCS and PLS to perform collective licensing on their behalf. The Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) and the Picture Industry Collecting Society for Effective Licensing (PICSEL) are now also members of CLA, The CLA licenses organisations to copy and re-use extracts from print and digital publications on behalf of the copyright owners – authors, publishers and visual artists.