University of Alberta for Tomorrow Update

Bill Flanagan - 10 September 2020

I want to thank all of you for a successful launch of the fall term in the unusual circumstances we find ourselves. We could not have reached this point without everyone taking on the challenge with extraordinary efforts to prepare for a largely remote learning environment. Thank you for all that you are doing to ensure that our students have the best possible experience in difficult times.

I also want to thank the many people who have been engaged with the work that has continued on academic and administrative restructuring, as part of University of Alberta for Tomorrow (UAT). I would like to provide an update on the work being done and let you know about what is planned for the rest of this month. 

Please mark your calendar for our next UAT town hall on Sept 30 from 1 pm - 2 pm.**

**Please note that the time of the town hall has CHANGED. The originally scheduled time (noon -1 pm) conflicts with NASA’s annual general meeting. To allow for as much participation as possible in both meetings, the town hall is now scheduled for 1 pm - 2 pm.

University of Alberta for Tomorrow

As you know, we are taking on the challenge of major academic and administrative restructuring because we face financial pressures that are greater than any we have faced in recent history. As we’ve dealt with COVID-19, I have also been reminded that universities like ours need to be in a continual state of evolution as we strive to work with the broader community to solve problems and seed new ways of thinking. Our challenges right now are indeed unprecedented but I am convinced we can use the changes they will drive to make us a more dynamic, innovative organization that is able to be the university of the future.

With smaller, more agile, coordinated and strategic academic and administrative organizational structures, we will be able to focus more resources on student experience and services as well as on frontline teaching and research. We can increase collaboration and interdisciplinarity in both research and programming while also respecting the history and integrity of disciplines and continuing to build on our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Engaging all kinds of communities and fuelling economic and social development in Alberta and beyond has been our mission since the beginning—and this role is more important today than ever. With change, we can set a bold new direction for the university of tomorrow, making even greater contributions to advancing the public good.

Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) Update

Over the last several weeks, the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) has been developing and evaluating a range of options for restructuring faculties with a tight focus on the principles and objectives endorsed by GFC last spring. To create both economies of scale and academic opportunities for the development of innovative, interdisciplinary programming, the ARWG has been reviewing research and data, comparing models at several other global institutions which have undergone similar restructuring efforts, and examining a variety of options. 

Various models for restructuring have been evaluated in terms of their capacity to build on existing research and teaching connections and synergies between and across disciplines, to enhance student experience and access to programs and support, to facilitate future reductions in duplication, and to ensure we will achieve essential cost savings now and increase investment in our core mission into the future. 

It is important to stress that no decisions have been made about academic restructuring. Research on models used by other institutions, such as Monash University, King’s College London, and the University of Sydney, has been useful in exploring options but we are looking for a model that meets our particular needs. There is no one-size fits all and we are in the process of developing academic and administrative structures that will be specific to the University of Alberta and to our institutional vision and mission. 

Service Excellence Transformation (SET) Update

While ARWG has been focused on this work, the Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC) and the SET Program Office have been exploring various frameworks for a new administrative operating model. 

The SESC has 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. 

This model has received positive support from deans and other senior leaders over the summer, and the Board of Governors will formally consider this option at their October meeting. More information about this blended framework will be posted on the UAT website next week.

Consultations to date

Throughout the summer, Provost Steven Dew, Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Gitta Kulczycki, the members of the ARWG and SESC, and I have sought input and feedback from the community through town halls which drew very high level of interest and engagement, with over 20,000 views to date. Consultations have been held in several committee meetings, including Deans’ Council, Academic Planning Committee, Board of Governors, and the Council of Student Affairs. In addition, we have appreciated the opportunity for discussions with NASA and AASUA executives, Students’ Union, Graduate Students’ Association, and equity-seeking groups for their advice and input.  

We had a great response to our call for expressions of interest in the Staff Advisory Team--my thanks to everyone for their willingness to contribute their time and expertise to UAT.  The team membership will be announced shortly, with a planned first meeting later in September.

Immediate next steps

Academic restructuring: The ARWG is now in the process of drafting a report on their work and refining suggested options for reorganization. The report and options will be presented to the Academic Planning Committee on Sept 23 and General Faculties Council on Sept 28. The purpose of this is not to settle on a particular direction but to seek feedback and guidance for the next stage of the ARWG’s work. Documents will be made publicly available in advance of those meetings. 

Administrative restructuring: With a framework identified (understanding the Board of Governors will officially consider it at their October meeting), the SET team will now be meeting with leaders in faculties and units to begin more detailed analysis and planning about how and where services and processes are best delivered. They will be developing a service catalogue and formalizing how the hybrid operating model will function. This work will continue over the fall months and there will be many more opportunities for consultation and feedback.

Upcoming Town hall

As I mentioned at the top of this post, please plan to join us at for a livestream town hall on Sept 30 at 1 pm - 2 pm. We look forward to hearing your questions and feedback on the options for academic restructuring and other progress to date.

Your continued engagement in UAT will be critical to our success. Thank you for your participation thus far and I look forward to many more productive discussions throughout the fall.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor