Frequently Asked Questions


University of Alberta for Tomorrow

What is U of A for Tomorrow?

U of A for Tomorrow is an initiative that provides a path forward in the midst of significant pressures on the university. The implementation of this initiative involves two main branches: 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 operating model

Will there still be services in our faculty or department?

A key objective of U of A for Tomorrow is to shift the administrative burden away from faculties and departments, with colleges and central portfolios providing high-quality administrative services at a lower cost. Services not directly tied to the programs or specific to a faculty’s activities should be located at the college or university level. Where specialized services and administrative needs are integral to academic programming, faculties and departments will continue to provide these services.

How will this model affect a typical faculty member?

When the new structure is fully implemented, faculty members should enjoy streamlined access to academic and administrative supports that are responsive, timely, and efficient. The availability of support should be more consistent across faculties, and administrative efficiencies should allow us to reinvest resources in teaching and research. During the implementation period, it is realistic to expect growing pains. Based on the experience of other universities going through large-scale change, we expect that satisfaction with services will decrease during the first year, and recover over the following year as work processes are perfected.

How will this model affect a typical staff member?

In terms of access to services, all faculty and staff will be served by the Staff Service Centre. The service centre provides staff with a central space that can address and triage their enquiries according to need and complexity, and ensures the successful delivery of these services. It will be the “front door” to all services—no matter a person’s question or need. The centre will include a digital platform where teams can resolve queries virtually and will be complemented by walk-in locations providing staff with access to self-service portals or in-person services. Within the service centre, teams of support staff will be focused on specific areas. The staff in the service centre will either be able to serve the user or connect the user to the office that can best help.

In terms of impact on professional development and opportunities, staff will find greater consistency across roles, elevated levels of responsibility for administration, and clearer pathways for career progression and mobility. Staff will experience more rewarding and specialized work within an operational model that significantly reduces redundancies and simplifies procedures and workflows.

How will this model affect a typical student?

The greatest impact on a typical student will be the launch of the Student Service Centre offering improved consistency in student services across the university and its five campuses. The service centres provide students with a central space that can address and triage user enquiries according to need and complexity, and ensure the successful delivery of these services. It will be the “front door” to all services—no matter a student’s question or need. The centre will include a digital platform where teams can resolve queries virtually and will be complemented by walk-in locations providing students with access to self-service portals or in-person services. Within the service centre, teams of support staff will be focused on specific areas. The staff in the service centre will either be able to serve the user or connect the user to the office that can best help.

Degrees will not be affected by the establishment of colleges or the implementation of the operating model. Faculties will remain the primary contact for students.

A key outcome of establishing  the colleges is an increase in outstanding academic programs with greater scope for interdisciplinarity, ability to transfer into and between programs, transparency of offerings, and consistency of services and support.

What is happening with academic leadership positions, such as associate deans?

One key objective of academic and administrative restructuring is to refocus academic faculty members towards our core mission of teaching and research. We will achieve this by reducing (1) the amount of time that faculty members in academic leadership roles spend on administering services, and (2) the number of academic administrators. The colleges provide a unique opportunity to reduce the administrative load of a significant number of faculty members and thereby enhance the faculty’s research and teaching capacity. We must also ensure the university achieves this objective sustainably; a committee will review academic leadership roles, such as associate chairs, and provide recommendations by the end of September 2021.

How do we ensure that academic services will stay accountable to the faculties?

The college dean needs to work collegially as part of the community of deans from across all faculties. This is fundamentally a collaborative relationship, not a hierarchical one. To ensure that college-level administrators remain responsive to the faculties, the colleges will be developing accountability mechanisms.

What happens next?

See the timeline here. The colleges officially launch on July 1. The next six months focus on building the college structures outlined in the university operating model, transitioning services to the colleges, and developing college strategic plans. The goal is for college services to be implemented by 2022. Please note: the operating model provides a high-level overview of how the university will run; the next steps will unfold within the colleges themselves as we build out the new structures, units, and teams that will give the U of A its shape.

Job losses and staff transitions

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 and save $60 million. Consistent with our projection last March, the university must reduce its budget by $30 million by the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year. 

The goal of both academic restructuring and SET is to help us restructure our administrative functions so that we can continue to provide high quality services with fewer staff. Without restructuring, we would be imposing an unsustainable burden on the remaining staff, to do the same amount of work with significantly fewer people.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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

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.

During the implementation period, it is realistic to expect growing pains. Based on the experience of other universities going through large-scale change, we expect that satisfaction with services will decrease during the first year, and recover over the following year as work processes are perfected.

[Updated  July 8, 2021]

Financial 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 given our significant financial challenges. We 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 Canadian, US, 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 can reduce expenditures and ensure that more funding directly supports research and teaching.

Through this process, each area has been provided a budget target and the corresponding FTE reduction at average salary as of March 2021 and March 2022 and each area is developing their plans on how to meet the targets. This process will result in $30 million of labour savings for the 2021/22 financial year and an additional $30 million of savings for the 2022/23 financial year.

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).

Please see the SET Interim Report for a detailed overview of our challenges, opportunities, and the new model, and the Revised Proposals of the Academic Restructuring Working Group for an overview of the financial opportunities in academic restructuring.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

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.

Student experience

Since advisors need to be close to the programs and students, how will centralizing student services enhance student services experience?

The key objectives of our stream are to build an ecosystem that enables quality student services provided from many different locations, including the Student Service Centre, and to build a shared knowledge base that will help advisors placed anywhere in the ecosystem to advise and help navigate their students to specific services. We will work to ensure a closer connection between colleges, faculties, program-level services, and the university-wide services that we provide, while improving the holistic student experience. This approach does not necessarily mean that the service will be generic for all students; rather, we expect the Student Service Centre will support different pathways — for example, undergraduate, graduate, and international students. We also know that some student services, such as academic program advising, will best be delivered at the faculty level. Advisors will exist all over the university and although executing different purposes, they will all have a common mission to provide high level personal support to students whether in a faculty or central unit.

[Updated February 11, 2021]

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.

Where will the staff and student service centres be located?

As transitions are already unfolding and the U of A is still preparing for a return to campus, it’s likely that parts of the staff and students service centres will initially be delivered online. Eventually, the Staff Service Centre will be located at Enterprise Square – you can read about the renovations currently underway here. The Student Service Centre will have a physical location on North Campus and will initially be housed in the Administration Building until it takes up final residence in the new Dentistry/Pharmacy centre once refurbishment is complete

[Updated June 24, 2021]

Consultation and engagement

How are you engaging NASA and the AASUA in this process?

The university is committed to continued engagement with NASA and AASUA to provide timely information throughout the administrative restructuring process. University leadership holds regular meetings with NASA and the AASUA to manage the processes defined within our collective agreements, minimize negative impacts on our staff, and ensure that staff have rewarding and engaging careers post-implementation. As well, both NASA and AASUA have members on the General Faculties Council (GFC) and the Board of Governors, which both play critical roles in the decision-making and approval process.

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Why didn'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 (GFC) and the Board of Governors which are the two bodies responsible for making decisions regarding academic and administrative 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, and is the decision-making authority on the university's new administrative operating model and organizational structure.

Learn more about the governance of this process here »

[Updated December 10, 2020]

Was the community consulted on these changes?

Yes. Through a variety of venues, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and external community members were invited to ask questions, provide feedback, and suggest ideas and alternatives throughout the development and implementation of academic and administrative restructuring plans. Since September, there were 23 roundtables with approximately 4000 attendees; four town halls with more than 5,000 live viewers (and more than 15,000 viewers of the recordings); four Thoughtexchange questions with more than 2,500 participants; more than 400 written online responses; and nearly 35 alternative restructuring scenario proposals.

You can find a summary of consultations and feedback reports on the Consultation page.

Data and research

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.