Frequently Asked Questions

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).


University of Alberta for Tomorrow

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).

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.
Are there plans for making the university more centralized?

In terms of administrative restructuring, the Service Excellence Steering Committee reviewed multiple frameworks, ranging from centralization of all administrative services at one end of the spectrum to full decentralization on the other end. While there are merits to frameworks at both ends of the spectrum, there are also drawbacks. For example, on the one hand, a highly centralized framework is not feasible given our financially driven time constraints and is also a huge shift away from our current mode of operation. On the other end, a decentralized, devolved framework, which is closer to our current model, will not achieve the savings required. 

The SESC has endorsed a blended, hybrid framework as best fitting the university’s needs.  This framework has the following components:  

  • two universal front end contact centres--one for staff and one for students; 
  • expert teams within each functional area managing non-transactional activity;
  • function-specific business partners working directly with their relevant functional areas, embedded in faculties where necessary and appropriate; 
  • a universal processing hub managing simple and moderately complex transactions across all administrative functions;
  • certain staff/roles remain in the faculties. 

In terms of academic restructuring, proposed changes to the number and size of faculties will not necessarily shift the respective roles, responsibilities, and authorities of faculties in relation to central units. No decisions on this have been made.

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.
Given the current fiscal restraints, how is the university going to maintain an inclusive environment that supports and promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion?
Maintaining our ongoing commitment to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion, and reconciliation will be critical. A key part of the restructuring process will be continued meaningful consultation that is inclusive of all of the diverse voices within our university community and beyond. For an update on follow-up actions to the Aug 27 town hall for equity-seeking groups, please go 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?

Broad participation from faculty, staff, and students is fundamental to the success of UAT. Mechanisms for providing feedback can be found here.

A Staff Advisory Team has been created to ensure that administrative and support staff can provide advice and feedback on planning.

As well, there are a number of standing committees (GFC, APC, COSA, Deans’ Council, Chairs’ Council, etc.) that will be regularly engaged on these topics. We will also be communicating regularly with representative groups (NASA, AASUA, GSA, and SU).

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.
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.

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.
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.

Academic Restructuring

What is your plan for reducing the number of faculties? How will these decisions be made, what is the timeline, and how will the changes be rolled out?

The first set of proposals from the Academic Restructuring Working Group will be presented to General Faculties Council on Sept 28. Through October, a number of consultations will be held in which members of the community can provide feedback and advice to the ARWG. In November after receiving this feedback, the AWRG will present the preferred option to the community.  

Ultimately the preferred option will go before General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors in late 2020 or early 2021 for recommendation and approval as per normal governance processes. 

We are targeting July 2021 for the implementation of the new academic structure.

How will restructuring enable more interdisciplinary teaching and learning collaborations?
Interdisciplinarity is key to our initiative. The Academic Restructuring Working Group is considering the mechanisms by which interdisciplinary teaching and research occurs, and whether or not we can find better methods of reinforcing and coordinating interdisciplinary activity. This may encompass a modified approach to centers and institutes, incentives, or other mechanisms. Consolidating faculties will ideally itself create further opportunities to build on the excellent interdisciplinary work already happening.
Why are there no support staff/NASA staff on the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG)? If support staff are not going to have any representation, how will you engage support staff and ensure their voices are heard?

A Staff Advisory Team has been created to ensure that administrative and support staff can provide advice and feedback on University of Alberta for Tomorrow. This group includes diverse staff representatives from across faculties and academic support units. 

Support staff representatives also hold key roles on the governance bodies (GFC and BOG) that will ultimately approve a restructuring proposal. 

While the membership of the ARWG primarily consists of academic leaders and faculty members, the feedback from staff gathered through SAT, town halls, and other platforms is shared with the ARWG, and will help to inform their initial and final proposals. 

The SET program office is conducting workshops with staff in faculties and units to understand their current state, hear their challenges, and to solicit their thoughts on new operating models. As we get into examining particular processes (ie: finance, human resources), the SET working group will be establishing user groups which include frontline staff who perform that work.

Will the Faculty of Extension be removed during the restructuring?

No decisions have been made about the future of any faculty under UAT.

In spring 2020, a number of changes were made in Extension. Due to the new budget model (and not in conjunction with UAT), a new structure was needed to support Extension’s scholarship of engagement and graduate programming functions. To ensure their long-term viability, all of Extension’s research and for-credit programs and activities were moved into other faculties. You can read more about these changes here.

Is the ARWG exploring options for restructuring departments as well as faculties?
In the first phase of their work, the ARWG has focused only restructuring at the faculty level, not the department level. The consolidation of faculties into larger units could lead to opportunities for future reorganization of departments and this will be examined as plans for implementing the new faculty structure are developed in winter/spring 2020.
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.

Administrative Restructuring (SET)

Are there plans for making the university more centralized?

In terms of administrative restructuring, the Service Excellence Steering Committee reviewed multiple frameworks, ranging from centralization of all administrative services at one end of the spectrum to full decentralization on the other end. While there are merits to frameworks at both ends of the spectrum, there are also drawbacks. For example, on the one hand, a highly centralized framework is not feasible given our financially driven time constraints and is also a huge shift away from our current mode of operation. On the other end, a decentralized, devolved framework, which is closer to our current model, will not achieve the savings required. 

The SESC has endorsed a blended, hybrid framework as best fitting the university’s needs.  This framework has the following components:  

  • two universal front end contact centres--one for staff and one for students; 
  • expert teams within each functional area managing non-transactional activity;
  • function-specific business partners working directly with their relevant functional areas, embedded in faculties where necessary and appropriate; 
  • a universal processing hub managing simple and moderately complex transactions across all administrative functions;
  • certain staff/roles remain in the faculties. 

In terms of academic restructuring, proposed changes to the number and size of faculties will not necessarily shift the respective roles, responsibilities, and authorities of faculties in relation to central units. No decisions on this have been made.

The Uniforum data includes a number of research intensive universities, but does it consider the unique costs associated with a research intensive university? Upon what basis were valid comparisons with other universities being made?
In order to generate “like for like” comparisons as part of the benchmark model, UniForum uses teaching and research revenue as two independent inputs into a linear regression model. Cubane (the entity that developed UniForum) has found that these two inputs account for 98% of the variance in day to day costs for support operations at the university wide level.  This model allows UniForum to compare universities based on what they are “predicted” to spend at their level of teaching scale and research intensity based on the averages of the global group in the model. The UniForum benchmarking methodology has undergone independent academic review as part of its development.
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.
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 Service Excellence Steering Committee and SET Program Office 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.