Restructuring Will Make UAlberta More Nimble, Efficient, Says President

The plan also prioritizes student experience, Bill Flanagan told alumni at a virtual town hall

By Anna Holtby

October 21, 2020 •

Student experience must remain at the core of the University of Alberta’s mission, even as the university proposes significant changes to its structure, the U of A president told alumni.

“We’re enormously proud of the student experience we’re able to offer at the University of Alberta — and indeed it was that experience that probably brings many of you here tonight,” said Bill Flanagan on Oct. 20, at a virtual town hall for alumni. More than 700 people registered for the event. 

The plans are part of U of A for Tomorrow, which proposes significant changes to both the faculties and administrative structures of the university with the goal of saving $127 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The U of A faces an anticipated 33 per cent cut ($216M) to the U of A’s Government of Alberta grant over three years. U of A for Tomorrow, spearheaded by the recently installed president, addresses these urgent financial pressures facing the university. 

Beyond creating savings, the initiative is designed to increase collaboration, facilitate interdisciplinary research and ensure the U of A is in the best position to serve students and the community.

“We think this is an opportunity to take the financial challenge that we’re facing now and turn it into an opportunity for strategic transformation,” said Flanagan. “[We can] really think very creatively and in an entrepreneurial way about what the university of tomorrow will look like. And in that regard, we are leading the sector in Canada."

At the town hall, university provost Steven Dew, ’92 PhD, presented three scenarios for academic restructuring. These were prepared by the Academic Restructuring Working Group for the consideration of the community. Each option would increase collaboration and save money by grouping faculties in a way that allows them to share administrative functions, said Dew.

In Scenario A, most faculties would stay the same, while Health Sciences faculties, with the exception of Medicine & Dentistry, would be consolidated. In Scenario B, current faculties would maintain ownership of their programs and research but be grouped into three divisions with centralized administrative services. Lastly, Scenario C would combine faculties that have potential for increased collaboration, such as Arts and Science, while creating a centralized division for the smaller faculties. (See charts here for more detail.)

Scenario B was specifically designed to retain the identity of the individual faculties while saving money through larger units, said Flanagan. 

“I know the importance of the faculty as a home for students … and also the importance of the faculty as something the alumni feel very closely attached to,” he said.

All three scenarios recognize the unique purposes of Augustana, Campus St. Jean and Native Studies as community-oriented faculties. Scenarios A and B leave them as stand-alone faculties, while Scenario C groups them as faculties into a shared division. The options are outlined in further detail in the interim report of the Academic Restructuring Working Group, led by Dew.

At the virtual event, Heather Raymond, '82 BEd, '86 Dip(Ed), '95 MEd, '02 PhD, Alumni Association president, shared questions submitted by grads. One grad asked about the effects of restructuring on student experience and tuition costs. Tuition will increase an average of seven per cent each year for 2020-21 and the next two years, said Flanagan. This stems from a change in government tuition legislation, which allows for increases to help offset reductions to the Campus Alberta Grant. However, the university has committed to setting aside a sizable portion of the increased tuition revenue to support students with financial need, he added.

In fact, it was a financial aid program that allowed Flanagan’s father to attend the U of A many years ago, he said.

“My dad never dreamed in a thousand years that he’d be able to attend the University of Alberta. But he did have that opportunity and it changed his life — and he went on to change the lives of others as a teacher,” said Flanagan. “We need to make sure that the University of Alberta remains accessible to all students, especially those with financial need. It’s something I care very deeply about and it’s something we will ensure we continue to do.”

Another alumni question centred on the effect of restructuring on individual programs like music, art and educational psychology.

Regardless of how the restructure unfolds, students’ degrees and programs will not be affected, although who delivers them may shift, said Dew.

Watch the full town hall for more alumni questions and responses.

Throughout October, the Academic Restructuring Working Group has been meeting with individual faculties for consultation. Once the current consultation phase is over, the group will present an updated proposal to the university community in November. They will receive further feedback, then bring a final plan to the university’s General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors by December, with the goal of receiving approval to begin implementing changes for the 2021-22 academic year.

Alumni can share their thoughts on the academic restructuring through an online survey.

We at New Trail welcome your comments. Robust debate and criticism are encouraged, provided it is respectful. We reserve the right to reject comments, images or links that attack ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation; that include offensive language, threats, spam; are fraudulent or defamatory; infringe on copyright or trademarks; and that just generally aren’t very nice. Discussion is monitored and violation of these guidelines will result in comments being disabled.

Latest Stories