Achievement Relative to Opportunity Guidelines


These guidelines apply to all staff members at the University.


These guidelines provide further explanation, examples and recommended best practices for implementing the Achievement Relative to Opportunity Policy and Procedures.


In contemporary universities, the traditional norm of fulltime work and an uninterrupted, linear career trajectory no longer matches the profile of many staff members.

‘Certain groups, including women, people with disabilities and Indigenous staff may be less able to comply with these formal and informal norms and therefore less likely to accrue achievements at the expected rate. Equity interventions must engage with basic work practices and processes and the norms that underlie them, in order to re-vision them in ways that are more inclusive and effective for organisations’ (Kolb et al, 1998).


  • What is achievement relative to opportunity?
  • Application of achievement relative to opportunity
  • Relevant circumstances
  • Examples


What is achievement relative to opportunity?

  • Achievement relative to opportunity means positive acknowledgement of what has been achieved given the opportunities available - in contrast to a ’special consideration’ approach that highlights the negative impact of personal circumstances on performance or expects lesser standards of performance
  • It re-examines the concept of merit (traditionally derived from a fulltime, uninterrupted, linear career history), and the associated expectations of quantity, rate, consistency and breadth of outputs, and how these productivity factors may be affected by personal circumstances and working arrangements
  • Overall quality and impact of contributions and achievements are given more weight than the quantity, rate or breadth of particular achievements
  • It applies to recruitment, performance management and development, promotion and the awarding of grants and fellowships.
  • The principle applies equally to academic and professional staff members

Application of merit relative to opportunity

  • Individuals are supported and encouraged to describe relevant personal circumstances, which have had a significant impact on their achievements.
  • It is advisable to provide detail on the period and impact of the circumstances under consideration e.g. caring for an ill relative for three years prevented overseas travel to conferences and taking research and study leave
  • If an applicant felt the information was too sensitive and personal to be explained in an application, they could discuss it with their HR representative, academic head or chair of decision-making committee who will advise the dean or service division director of the confidential information that may support Achievement Relative to Opportunity being taken into account.

Appropriate consideration can be given to these circumstances and the effect they can have and have had on:

  • overall time available
  • the quantum or rate of productivity
  • the opportunity to participate in certain types of activities
  • the consistency of activities or output over the period of consideration

Decision makers (managers or committees) can make merit-based assessments focused on:

  • the evaluation of quality
  • ensuring that all relevant standards have been met, and
  • taking into account how individual circumstances can affect opportunity and productivity during a given period

All information submitted in relation to personal circumstances will be kept confidential and will be used only for the purposes of assessing the application in which it is contained.

Relevant circumstances may include:

  • responsibilities to whānau, hapū, iwi and hāpori
  • other cultural expectations or circumstances
  • carer responsibilities for children, elderly parents, or ill family members
  • ill-health, impairment or medical conditions, whether temporary, episodic or permanent
  • traumatic events or circumstances such as a relationship breakdown, death in the family or family violence

While these circumstances will be taken into account in assessing achievement relative to opportunity, it is not intended that activities undertaken during a career break should also be used as evidence of achievement e.g if a promotions applicant has interrupted their career to work in the community, they cannot both request an achievement relative to opportunity assessment of the period out of university employment, and also claim the work undertaken during that time as a service contribution.


  • A staff member returned to work after nine months parental leave. This reduced research productivity during that period, and for some months afterwards, as they re-established research projects and networks. Although this has meant they have not been able to meet their faculty’s expectation for the number of publications produced over the last three years, the FSC recommended approval for Research and Study Leave due to their personal circumstances that reduced opportunity to publish.
  • A manager is a leader (e.g. kaumātua/kuia, tikanga advisor) in their iwi. Accordingly, there are occasions when it is essential to attend hui and tangi that can last for several days. This is taken into account in their performance assessment. Commendation for the quality of their contribution, and cultural knowledge they bring to projects is prioritised above leadership gaps when there is the occasional need to delegate responsibility during absences.
  • An academic applying for promotion took a period of leave four years ago to care for their terminally ill family member. This has created a gap in the research record and reduced productivity after returning to work. The FSC considered the applicant's prior and current rate of productivity and made an assessment based on the quality of the work which did not require continuous and uninterrupted performance for success.
  • A professional staff member who cares for a child with an impairment must always leave by 4.30 pm to collect the child from the therapy centre. This has restricted their ability to participate in team building events which occur outside of working hours. In the EVOLVE performance assessment, the reviewer affirms the person's skills in ‘Planning and Organisation’ on the basis of evidence that they have used time and resources effectively to build relationships within the time that was available.
  • An applicant for a vacancy has undergone successful cancer treatment. As a result of time out having treatment and recuperation, their CV is less full than some other applicants. The applicant discussed this in their interview and the selection committee decide that taking career gaps into account, the overall quality of their previous performance is superior to other applicants.
  • A staff member with an impairment has been employed as an academic for seven years. This year they took nearly three months sick leave. Prior to that, and after their return to work, they worked reduced hours. They are applying for promotion and although their achievements during the last eighteen months have been significantly less than in previous years, the committee is satisfied that taking these personal circumstances into account, they have reached the standard for promotion.
  • An applicant for promotion has been caring for small children at home during Covid-19 restrictions. They have put additional time and effort into online teaching and have had excellent student feedback. However, their research outputs have been less than planned due to the higher teaching workload and caring responsibilities. The lower number of research outputs and strong teaching contribution can be taken into consideration as part of a holistic assessment of the promotion application.
  • An applicant for promotion was affected by a high teaching workload and mental health challenges throughout the pandemic and does not have any SET evaluations for the period. The applicant put together a page of commentary to demonstrate their capabilities as a reflective practitioner. They explained what they did to adapt their course delivery, what the challenges were, how they responded to those challenges and what they learnt from the experience, including how mental health challenges affected their teaching. This commentary was considered as part of a holistic assessment of the promotion application by the Faculty Staffing Committee and University Academic Staffing Committee.

Examples of what is NOT achievement relative to opportunity

  • Part-time employment in itself is not reason for consideration of achievement relative to opportunity. It should be noted that staff who work part-time would generally take longer to meet relevant standards. Thus, the achievements of a staff member who works on a proportional basis are considered within a holistic assessment including consideration of the quality and consistency of their achievements.
  • A staff member whose term as an academic head impacts on their research or teaching achievements, can have those activities considered holistically and rewarded under service, instead of regarding the role as a personal circumstance that has inhibited their opportunity.
  • An applicant whose previous employment experience (e.g. as a research fellow) did not include the same teaching requirements as a currently sought job (e.g. lecturing position) may be regarded as lacking the necessary skills. These skills can be gained through training. This is different from lacking the opportunity to meet the criteria through one’s personal circumstances.
  • An applicant for promotion who has not been in their position long enough to satisfy the required criteria would be regarded as being “premature” in their application rather than not having the opportunity to have gained the necessary qualifications.


The following definitions apply to this document:

Hāpori means community.

Hapū is sub-tribe.

Hui means large ceremonial gathering.

Iwi means tribe.

Kaumātua means male elder/leader.

Kuia means elderly women/leader.

Significant means circumstances that materially impair opportunity.

Staff member refers to an individual employed by the University on a full time or part- time basis.

Tangi is a ceremony to honour the dead.

Tikanga adviser – adviser on correct custom/protocol.

University means the University of Auckland and includes all subsidiaries.

Whānau means family group.

Key relevant documents

Include the following:

1 Kolb, D., Fletcher, J., Meyerson, D., Merill-Sand, D., and Ely, R. (1998) Making Change: A Framework for Promoting Gender Equity in Organisations. Centre for Gender in Organisations, Simmons Graduate School of Management, Boston, Briefing

Note No. 1. The University of Melbourne. Academic Promotions: Guidelines for assessment of “performance against opportunity”.

Document management and control

Owner: Pro-Vice Chancellor Equity
Content manager: Director Staff Equity
Date of last review: 17 November 2016
Date approved: 17 February 2020
Review date: February 2023

Further information

More information about the University’s commitment to be a fair and inclusive place to study and work can be found on the Equity at the University website.