Frequently Asked Questions


University of Alberta for Tomorrow

What is U of A for Tomorrow?

U of A for Tomorrow is a proposal for the U of A's future that provides a path forward in the midst of significant pressures on the university. The implementation of this initiative involves two main arms: academic restructuring and administrative transformation. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about University of Alberta for Tomorrow, Academic Restructuring, and Service Excellence Transformation (SET).

Fiscal Impacts

How are you going to cut more than $100 million from our operating budget, increase enrolment by 10,000 students, and still fulfill the teaching, research, and service mission of the university?

This is an ambitious plan but we face significant financial challenges and must act quickly and take a strategic approach. The U of A’s participation in UniForum, a global benchmarking initiative to advance effectiveness and efficiency in administrative services, has revealed that compared to Australian and UK peer institutions, the U of A’s administrative and space costs are significantly higher and services and processes less efficient. With significant restructuring of how we deliver end-to-end administrative processes and services, we have an opportunity to reduce expenditures and ensure that more funding directly supports research and teaching.

Reducing the number of faculties will also result in reduction in expenditures. Larger faculties spend 50% less to deliver admin operations per course registration. Reducing the number of faculties by 50% could save $26M in operational administration costs and $18M in released academic capacity (i.e. people currently needed in administrative roles will return to core academic functions of teaching and research).

Understanding the need to reduce our building footprint to maintain the sustainability of the university, how do you plan to drive this initiative to meet the ambitious goal of reducing our footprint by almost a third?

In June 2019, the university Board of Governors on the recommendation of the General Faculties Council approved an Integrated Asset Management Strategy to maximize the use of good space, minimize the potential for critical failures that would affect the core mission, reduce operating costs and start to reduce our significant deferred maintenance burden. This strategy will guide any future decisions over the closing or decommissioning of facilities. Restructuring should support this strategy by concentrating administrative supports into more concentrated units.

How will any of the proposed scenarios promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within our campuses going forward?

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. Scenarios B and C also provide options for strengthening EDI leadership, policy, and programming across campus with the creation of an Associate Dean EDI. Currently, only three faculties have the resources for this position, but with the economies of scale provided by the divisional model, it becomes possible to provide leadership across all faculties. 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.

Read an update on follow-up actions to the Aug 27 town hall for equity-seeking groups here »

Employment

How many job losses will there be and when?

As a result of government funding reductions in 2019/20 and 2020/21, in March the University of Alberta announced that at least 1000 full time equivalent continuing positions would have to be lost through layoffs, attrition, and retirements. At fiscal year end on March 31, 2020, approximately 400 of these 1000 positions had been cut. Since then, layoffs have continued, and through this year and next, we will need to continue to reduce our workforce by approximately 650 full-time equivalent continuing positions. Consistent with our projection in March, we still expect the total job loss will be in the range of 1050-1100 jobs.

It is important that we clarify that academic restructuring and SET will not result in any additional layoffs beyond the estimated 1050-1100 jobs already announced due to the funding cuts. The goal of both academic restructuring and SET (Service Excellence Transformation) is to help us to restructure our administrative functions so that we can continue to provide high quality services with fewer staff. Without restructuring, we would indeed be imposing an unsustainable burden on the remaining staff, to do the same amount of work with 1000 fewer people.

How will you manage the need for remaining staff to take on more work as positions are eliminated?

We cannot expect our support staff to continue to do more work with less support and fewer overall staff. That is why we are looking at how we organize and do our work through end-to-end analysis of every function. The process of restructuring will significantly reduce redundancies, simplify procedures and workflows, reveal opportunities for automation, and create more rewarding and specialized work opportunities for frontline workers. Our ultimate goal is to support our teaching and research mission in a sustainable way, rather than continuing to distribute cuts across campus in a way that is not strategic and results in added burden on remaining staff.

Consultations

Why don’t NASA and AASUA have representation in bodies that are making decisions regarding restructuring?

NASA and AASUA both have representation on the General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors which are the two bodies responsible for making decisions regarding restructuring. GFC plays a critical role, both in discussing and shaping the academic restructuring planning process and ultimately in making a recommendation to the Board of Governors on a new academic structure. The Board will provide final approval of proposals for academic restructuring of faculties and departments as well as the university's proposed new administrative framework, operating model and organizational structure.

Learn more about the governance of this process here »

What mechanisms will senior administration establish to hear from the university community? How will faculty members, administrators, and support staff be involved in the planning and governance processes going forward?

Throughout the fall there will be several consultations. There are five town halls planned, including one for alumni. President Bill Flanagan, Provost Steven Dew, and Rob Munro (Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation) are hosting roundtables for faculty, staff, and students in faculties throughout October and early November. U of A for Tomorrow will also be discussed at numerous committees, including the Staff Advisory Team, Deans’ Council, Chairs’ Council, SU, and GSA, as well as GFC and the Board, and key governance sub-committees such as the Academic Planning Committee and the Council on Student Affairs. President Flanagan and Provost Dew are also committed to working closely and meeting regularly with NASA and AASUA executives to ensure that the impact on staff and faculty is fully considered in the process.

Research and data

Is the NOUS consultancy group continuing their work assisting the U of A with the innovative UAT restructuring project, or has the contract been completed? Are there any other collaborations (ongoing or planned) between NOUS and the U of A?

We have contracted Nous Group to help us through this profound transformation of our institution. Nous Group is an international management consultancy that has assisted other universities achieve real improvements and savings based on data gathered in the UniForum program.

Nous is working with the SET steering committee and team on the development and implementation of a new administrative framework, operational model, and organizational structure.

Nous was also engaged in the academic restructuring side, but this work is completed.Its purpose was to provide a high level review of experiences and outcomes at other institutions that have undergone restructuring.

Can you provide clarification on why the U of A is looking at work undertaken in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand not other Canadian universities?
We have looked abroad for international models of restructuring because the magnitude and pace of change required have not been experienced by any Canadian university in recent times. We are looking to Australian and UK models for their experiences in improving both efficiency and service effectiveness through restructuring, not for their labour relations approaches or international recruitment strategies.
Why are you using UniForum data? Is it reliable?

The current financial reality is forcing us to move quickly. We have now gone through two UniForum collections and feel we are understanding better how to collect and interpret this data; this information can help us make better informed decisions. However, It is only one input to a multi-faceted process. There is other data to factor in and consider, such as our own financial and HR data, which has been verified with leadership in faculties and units (31 reviews with over 100 people).

Student experience

I am concerned that the proposed centralization of student services will not serve the students in our faculty well—advisors need to be close to the programs and students. How will this enhance student services?

Many of our current student services are common across faculties, and delivering them through a service centre will ensure all our students can access consistent levels of support. This does not necessarily mean that the service will be generic for all students. We expect the student centre will support different pathways – for example, undergraduate, graduate and international experiences. We also know that some student services will best be delivered at the faculty level. The Student Centre won’t be impersonal – students will still be able to talk to staff members or have personalized service. The intention is that students can easily find services, get the advice they need at the time they need it, from one location, with clear rules for where they should be able to get support in different cases. As with any change, we know that there may be a period of disruption as we adjust to the new system but data from other institutions who have gone through similar transition shows that this period is temporary. As we navigate through the transition, we will deploy a student engagement plan which will involve monitoring student satisfaction with service delivery, identifying gaps and issues, and ensuring continuous improvement.

How can we increase enrolment by 10,000 students with shrinking resources?

Cutting our budget is a short term imperative. The proposal to increase enrolment by 10,000 is part of a longer term strategy based on a major opportunity for the U of A--the projected demographic growth in 18-24 year-olds in Alberta. These young people will need access to high quality PSE and U of A must be in position to provide it. An increase in enrolment could mean significant new net revenue for the university, which would be reinvested back into the core teaching and research mission to ensure that these additional students share in an outstanding learning experience. Proposals for increasing enrolment will be the subject of a broad process of consultation within the university.

How will the U of A remain attractive to students in spite of budget cuts? Will things like program diversity and student services be prioritized?

An outstanding educational experience is core to our mission and a chief priority in this restructuring. We are trying to reduce spending on areas that are not focused on our core mission of teaching and research. If we are successful in reducing administrative costs, those costs can be reinvested. With new investments in student programming, U of A will enhance its global leadership in technology-enhanced teaching and learning, with a dramatically expanded range of work-integrated learning opportunities. Students’ access to and service from student services will be improved through coordination, rationalization, and centralization.


Service Excellence Transformation (SET)

Proposed administrative organizational framework

Is it possible to get an 'interim report' from SET, similar to the ARWG report recently released? It would be nice to have more details and time to digest this rather than a quick slideshow presentation.

Yes, shortly after the Board of Governors meeting on October 16, a report will be issued with information about the new operating model and organizational structure. These elements will require further details about specific functional services and processes, which will be determined over the course of the next year with consultation from leaders and staff who actually perform the work.

Why is there only one model being proposed and not various options compared to the Restructuring models presented last week? It doesn't appear staff have any options at this point to voice concerns or seek clarifications.

During the process of determining which framework to propose to the Board, we reviewed the full spectrum of operating models that are used at universities across Canada, UK and Australia, from fully centralized models to completely devolved models. Both ends of the spectrums of pros and cons, but completely centralized is too much of a culture shift from what we have now, and completely devolved or decentralized is too expensive. We landed on a more blended model framework.

More than 30 one-to-one consultations were held with different stakeholders across the university in the initial scoping stages of the program and in the development of the operating framework that will go to the BOG for approval on Oct 16. The SET team has held 31 design workshops with more than 130 leaders of faculties and portfolios. Another round of workshops will be held with these leaders to test and refine the future model.

While leadership will determine the university’s operating model and organizational structure, we need staff to be involved in the details surrounding the specific processes and services, because they’re the ones actually doing the work. We need staff input on how to make this new structure work.

Are you considering the past issues in consolidations that were already tried and what did not work so as to avoid the same problems in the future?

Yes, we are looking at many other high-performing, research intensive universities internationally that have gone through similar restructuring– to learn from their experience. We have also looked at other Canadian universities who have used elements of this framework, including U of C (Service Partners) and University of Saskatchewan (transaction processing hub). This does not necessarily mean we are replicating any particular institution’s approach or operating model. No university has faced a funding challenge of this size, in these timeframes, that we know of, which is why we are considering a range of institutions so that we can take advantage of what has worked and avoid what did not.

How will it work?

How much participation will Faculties have in determining which staff/roles are redeployed to Centres of Excellence, transaction hub, and service centres?

We have been and will continue to work closely with leadership teams across faculties and units to hear their voice and understand exactly what is important to them. The transformation is a joint effort and will require collaboration to ensure the right activities are transitioned to the various units within the operating model.

Can you give examples of the type of work each of the centres or hubs would perform?

We are in the process of drafting a list of functions that would be performed by the transactional hubs. This draft will be reviewed by partners across the university to ensure that it is as accurate as possible; however, we recognize that this will be an iterative process with bumps in the process. We will be monitoring and mitigating to address these as we make these transitions.

Will any existing units be left as-is, or will all units be moved to one of the new models?

It is too soon for us to know. We have not yet designed to that level of detail. For those units that are already providing central services, such as IT, HR, and Finance, there will likely be movement from the faculties into the centre. However, we also know that there are some services that will need to be anchored in the faculties and will stay there.

Given the proposed centralization of student services what is being done to ensure that the student experience is enhanced or maintained by the changes?

Many of our current student services are common across faculties, and delivering them through a service centre will ensure all our students can access a consistent level of support. This does not necessarily mean that the service will be generic for all students. We expect the student centre will support different pathways – for example, undergraduate, graduate and international experiences. We also know that some student services will best be delivered at the faculty level. The Student Centre won’t be impersonal – students will still be able to talk to staff members or have personalized service. The intention is that students can easily find services, get the advice they need at the time they need it, from one location, with clear rules for where they should be able to get support in different cases. As with any change, we know that there may be a period of disruption as we adjust to the new system but data from other institutions who have gone through similar transition shows that this period is temporary. As we navigate through the transition, we will deploy a student engagement plan which will involve monitoring student satisfaction with service delivery, identifying gaps and issues, and ensuring continuous improvement.


Academic Restructuring

Recommended scenarios

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 executive deans in Scenario B result in cost savings?

A full description of the potential savings of consolidating faculties into larger units can be found in page 15-19 of the Interim Report of the ARWG. Saving calculations at this point are estimates. The cost of executive dean positions has factored into the savings estimates included in the report. Detailed costing will be completed as we refine scenarios and develop the final proposal for the community’s consideration in November.

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.

Will you consider alternative scenarios or adjustments to the three proposed?

Yes. As we meet with faculties, we are hearing alternative possibilities for bringing together faculties which may take better advantage of already existing disciplinary and interdisciplinary alignments. All of these ideas will be taken back to the ARWG as they refine their thinking.

Please share your ideas here »

How will any of the proposed scenarios promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within our campuses going forward?
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. Scenarios B and C also provide options for strengthening EDI leadership, policy, and programming across campus with the creation of an Associate Dean EDI. Currently, only three faculties have the resources for this position, but with the economies of scale provided by the divisional model, it becomes possible to provide leadership across all faculties. 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 does it seem like some faculties are being treated differently — e.g. Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, Native Studies, and Medicine & Dentistry?

Early in the ARWG’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.

The Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (FOMD) is not excluded from academic restructuring. FOMD is a large, specialized faculty. The nature of its clinical roles and medical education mean that FOMD functions differently, and is structured differently, than other faculties. This presents some challenges to consolidating FOMD with other smaller units that have distinct needs, and so in some scenarios, FOMD is not consolidated. However, in Scenario B, FOMD is a part of a health sciences division.

How can we evaluate the impact of academic restructuring without knowing the impact of SET?

We recognize that we are in a period of uncertainty in which tight timelines mean we must continue to move forward with administrative restructuring in parallel with academic restructuring. The operating framework and model of SET is being designed to align with any academic structure. Since these two initiatives are interrelated, it is impossible to isolate the impact of one from the other. The implementation of SET will be adapted to reflect the academic structure we choose, and likewise the organization of administrative functions in the faculties is directly informed by SET. However, we can say that some organizational structures are more supportive of administrative efficiency than others, and will more effectively support SET in realizing administrative efficiencies while preserving high-quality services. This is reflected in the savings estimates for each academic restructuring scenario.

How will it work?

How will budget allocations to current faculties/departments work in a divisional 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 divisional scenario, each faculty would receive an allocation based on the budget model, with a portion allocated to the division to cover the cost of administrative functions and initiatives now delivered at the divisional 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 division?

We recognize that each of our current faculties represents important perspectives, fields of knowledge, and community relationships. Under a divisional model, faculties remain intact within each division. 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 divisions might work, and how best to preserve the voice of smaller units.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions »

How will any of the proposed new academic structures 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 divisions 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.