Frequently Asked Questions — Academic Restructuring

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the academic restructuring arm of the University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative.


What is the purpose of establishing colleges at the U of A?

The decision to establish three colleges is the outcome of the academic restructuring process begun in June 2020 and approved by General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors in December 2020. These colleges will group 13 of our faculties in a way that will help us achieve significant savings in administrative costs. Of equal importance, these new colleges will coordinate and enhance the university’s ability to enrich teaching, research and community engagement, especially along interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lines. The colleges will enhance the university’s ability to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time, including advancing human health and wellness, science that advances knowledge and improves lives, and building a society with justice, equity and opportunity for all. Although grouped, the faculties within each of the colleges will remain, preserving their unique identity and history, with faculty deans having authority over all academic decisions.

What are the academic visions of each college?

The academic vision for each college will be developed through broad consultation by the  college deans in the coming months. Broadly speaking:

  • The College of Health Sciences will enable a new level of interdisciplinary research and teaching that can advance the whole spectrum of human health and wellness in our local communities and around the world.
  • The College of Natural and Applied Sciences will span the entire range of scientific teaching and research, from pure and fundamental discovery that advances our understanding of the world around us to the direct application of science in a way that can touch and improve all of our lives.
  • Through critical inquiry, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities will expand the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of our society, taking the lead in teaching and research on all dimensions of fostering an inclusive, creative, equitable, just, prosperous, free and democratic society, with opportunity and well-being for all.
When will the colleges be launched?

The new colleges will launch on July 1, 2021. Over the next six months, the college deans will start the planning process to create the new colleges, including developing a strategic plan to foster interdisciplinary teaching and research within and between the three colleges and developing a model for shared administrative services.

How were college deans selected?

President Flanagan and Provost Dew worked with the deans, senior university leaders and the Board Human Resources and Compensation Committee (BHRCC)  to develop a position profile for the new role of college dean. As per the Board’s motion, the college deans were selected from amongst the existing faculty deans based on consultations with each of them.

What are college deans responsible for?

Each college dean is responsible for the administration of the college and will work closely with the Council of Deans on the progress in implementing the new college. Each faculty will continue to be led by a dean who reports to the provost. After 18 months, the president will undertake a review of the college administrative and leadership structure and report to the Board of Governors and GFC. The board will also develop metrics to assess the colleges’ performance, and over the next 12 months, regular reports will be provided to the board and GFC.

How does the role of the college dean differ from faculty dean?

College deans are responsible for high level strategy for the college, building interdisciplinary bridges and major research initiatives and overseeing the management of the shared services for the college. They lead and resource strategic college initiatives, determine cross-faculty priorities, and enhance alignment between faculty goals and strategic college objectives. 

Faculty deans will continue to handle all academic functions, including program curricula, program quality, accreditation, and faculty/individual research initiatives. They control the faculty budget and oversee all matters relating to faculty and instructor appointments and FECs.

Do faculty deans report to college deans?
No. Faculty deans will continue to report to the provost.
Why aren’t departments being considered at this point?

The review of departments will follow and be guided by the reorganization of faculties. At this stage of the process, the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) is focused on faculty-level reorganization, but to achieve the full benefits of a reorganization, will also need to review department structure (both the number and organization of departments). Over time this will influence the organization of academic programs. It is critical that department reorganization be responsive to specific contextual factors and needs. The ARWG is considering principles to inform department-level considerations, to be discussed with GFC and other governance bodies.

Why isn’t FGSR being considered an academic unit and part of the scenarios? How will connections to FGSR be maintained?

FGSR has not been included in the scenarios because, although it does perform important academic functions, it is a unit that serves the entire institution and cannot be consolidated or grouped together with any other specific faculties. Once we have decided on a new academic structure, we can then consider how best to support graduate students across the institution and integrate FGSR into the new structure.

How will the addition of a new college layer result in cost savings?

As demonstrated in the chart below, UAT has set an ambitious goal for the university, to reduce our administrative costs by $95M while at the same time maintaining a consistent level of high-quality services to our faculty, staff and students. 

The new colleges will play a key role in achieving administrative savings. Due to economies of scale, we know that larger academic units can provide high-quality administrative services at a much lower cost. Without creating larger academic units, we simply could not achieve our targeted savings without serious adverse impacts on teaching and research. 

To successfully achieve savings in leadership costs, we will need to not only reduce the number of leadership positions, but also reduce the amount of leadership work that needs to be done. Economies of scale will decrease the number of leadership positions per faculty member. Elevating academic functions higher into the organizational structure will assist this scaling. Much leadership time is currently taken up by committees that need a representative from each unit. Reducing the number of units directly reduces the size of the committee without creating a workload gap. Finally, some careful reexamination and standardization of our processes should be able to reduce total workload and reduce the bureaucracy of the organization with little negative impact.

Maintaining our commitment to accountability and service excellence, throughout this transformation we will continually monitor and report on levels of service satisfaction with a clear focus on meeting the needs of all our service users, including faculty, staff and students.


Given the current fiscal restraints, how is the university going to maintain an inclusive environment that supports and promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion?

The U of A has a strong commitment to EDI, and the academic restructuring process must support and reflect our Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity. The decision to preserve the identity and autonomy of the Faculty of Native Studies and Campus St. Jean reflects the university’s continuing commitment to Indigenous and French-language teaching, research, and community engagement.

We have also been asked how we will reduce harm to historically marginalized groups as academic leadership positions are reduced. This is an issue that we know we must keep in the foreground. Recent changes to recruitment and appointments policy will aid us there. In addition, the ARWG continues to work with the university’s EDI team and Senior Advisor, Equity and Human Rights to apply an EDI lens to its work and evaluate EDI impacts. We hosted a town hall for equity-seeking groups and established an ad hoc advisory group made up of members of equity seeking groups. We will continue to invite input and engagement throughout our process.

Why are Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, and Native Studies being retained as stand-alone faculties?

Early in the Academic Restructuring Working Group's consultations, it heard clearly that Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, and Native Studies each have unique, community-oriented mandates. The ARWG has recommended that consolidating these faculties could compromise their ability to fulfill these mandates.

How will it work?

How will budget allocations to current faculties/departments work in a college model?

The university’s budget model uses a formula that assigns budget to faculties based primarily on their core activity (teaching and research). In addition, faculties may receive funding for special purposes (e.g. where they operate specialized facilities), and receive the revenue they generate through specialized tuition rates (e.g. market modifiers), dedicated fees, revenue-generating activities (e.g. professional education), and donations.

This model will remain in place. Under a college scenario, each faculty would receive an allocation based on the budget model, with a portion allocated to the college to cover the cost of administrative functions and initiatives now delivered at the college level. Each faculty will continue to receive any special program-based tuition revenue and any earmarked donation income.

How do we ensure that smaller faculties retain voice and influence in a larger college?

We recognize that each of our current faculties represents important perspectives, fields of knowledge, and community relationships. Under a college model, faculties remain intact within each college. This means that existing governance structures, such as Faculty Councils, General Faculties Council, and Deans’ Council, will remain in place, and small faculties will continue to have a formal voice. The ARWG is still working through how the internal governance of colleges might work, and how best to preserve the voice of smaller units.

How will the new academic structure encourage interdisciplinarity?

Increasing interdisciplinary collaborations in both programming and research is a key goal of academic restructuring. Bringing together small units within a larger umbrella will remove some organizational barriers to collaboration, and will make it easier to form other structures that bring together educators and researchers from across disciplines — such as cross-disciplinary teams, shared program groups, institutes, or other novel structures. At the same time, the ARWG recognizes that reorganizing our faculties will not accomplish these goals on its own. Any new academic structure will also need to promote new, and sustain current, collaboration that will occur across any new colleges or faculties. In the next phase of the academic restructuring process, we will review opportunities to enhance the effectiveness of cross-disciplinary structures like centres and institutes.

How will academic restructuring impact programs? Will any programs be eliminated?

There will be no immediate impacts on programming. Programs can only be established and eliminated through governance processes, as per the Post-secondary Learning Act. All students entering or currently enrolled in a program will complete that program. We anticipate that academic restructuring will lead to opportunities for greater coordination of programming in the future as well to opportunities for the development of new interdisciplinary, technology-enhanced programming.

How will the implementation of the college model affect students?

While 13 of the faculties have been grouped into three colleges, they will maintain their identity and an individual faculty dean. Degrees will continue to be controlled and associated with the faculty. This high-level institutional restructuring does not affect individual programs and departments. The colleges will support even more interdisciplinarity opportunities for our students.

Some student services will be affected by the transition to the college model; more details will be shared as they become available. The Service Excellence Transformation transition plan provides some information on the planning, approach, and timeline for moving to the new administrative operating model.