Ask SET Anything: Student Services Edition Recap

Steven Dew - 24 February 2022

On February 7, the SET team hosted another edition of our Ask SET Anything event series specifically for student services. Staff in this area were invited to learn more, ask questions, and share feedback about the vision for the future of student services at the university. We had another great turnout with approximately 120 staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting and another 125 watching the livestream. Thank you to everyone who joined the event.

Vice-President (University Services and Finance) and Chair of the Service Excellence Steering Committee, Todd Gilchrist, and I were joined by a panel of student services leadership and members of the SET team:

  • Brooke Milne — Vice-Provost and Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research
  • Cen Huang — Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President (International)
  • Helen Vallianatos — Acting Vice-Provost & Dean of Students
  • Melissa Padfield — Vice Provost & University Registrar, Administrative Sponsor & Initiative Lead of the Student Services workstream
  • Barbara Billingsley — Dean, Faculty of Law & Academic Sponsor of the Student Services workstream
  • Julie Naylor — College General Manager, College of Natural and Applied Sciences
  • Rob Munro — Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Brian Stewart — Program Director, Service Excellence Transformation

For those who were unable to attend the event, a recording is available for viewing:


Outlining the new vision

I want to start by acknowledging the hard work that student services and student support staff have done—and continue to do—during this challenging time. Developing this vision has been a massive undertaking and we could have not done it without your hard work and collaboration. The new vision that was shared in December is designed to prepare student services at the U of A for growth—specifically a 25 per cent increase in enrollment over the next five years. Ultimately, by re-aligning the five Provost offices and their services, we will be able to improve the student experience with an enhanced service culture. Students will now be able to access services through easy access points like the Student Service Centre, lessening their burden to navigate services across the university.

What we heard

Consultation and engagement was conducted during the spring of 2021 to develop and inform this vision. Student services leaders and members of the SET team consulted with students, staff and senior leaders in 18 faculties and six central units* to gain a better understanding of how to bring this vision to life. Some of the key findings from this feedback include:

  • Students prefer a centralized, one-stop service model or navigation point for most needs and to access services via email or in-person
  • Students feel there is an unequal access to services and want a greater level of support in mental health and counseling support
  • Faculty leaders support centralizing "administratively heavy" services (e.g. scheduling)
  • Faculty leaders want to share best practices and support at the college level, such as EDI and Indigenization of programs
  • Central units hope to move transactional activities to Shared Services and keep non-transactional activities in the faculties
  • Central units would like to maintain a high level of involvement from colleges and faculties for centralized activities

*Central units consulted included the Registrar's Office, Dean of Students, University of Alberta International, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of Extension, and Library and Museums.

Moving the vision towards implementation

To achieve our vision, a realignment of functions within the four central student service units is required. The vice-provost for each unit is currently leading a detailed design process in collaboration with the student services workstream to drive improved student experience across all programs at the university. You can learn more about the changes to these service areas in this recent article. To minimize the impact on students and staff, as well as fit within the annual cycle of student delivery, the team is committed to a staggered approach when implementing this vision, which will occur over four phases. Overall, transformation will take place over a period of approximately two years.

Once the time for recruitment comes, jobs will be added to the Position Opportunities Page (POP) and staff are encouraged to apply as postings are added to the Careers page. It's important to emphasize that implementation and hiring for new positions will occur in consultation with the vice-provosts in order to minimize disruption to both students and staff. The first positions available should be posted in April/May and will continue throughout the summer.

Student services web page

To keep you informed about ongoing changes and updates within the student services stream, a dedicated web page has been created. This web page tracks progress and provides updates as student services functions transition to the new operating model developed under the U of A for Tomorrow initiative. Here you will find an overview of the stream's approach, upcoming consultation events, FAQs, and more.

Consultation and upcoming events

As we continue with the UAT initiative, we want to ensure that staff have their questions and concerns addressed and learn more about the opportunities in the new operating model. The SET team will continue to host engagement events including more Ask SET Anything events, so be sure to check the UAT consultation page for upcoming dates and further details.

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked during the Ask SET Anything: Student Services Edition. Stay tuned for more that were submitted to be answered on the SET FAQ web page and student services web page where possible.

Dr. Steven Dew
Provost and Vice-President (Academic)



Questions asked and answered

Course-based research master's degrees that lead to doctoral programs are very common in the Social Science and Humanities in Canada. How will these course-based programs leading to PhDs now be handled? What does it mean that the Registrar's Office will now be responsible for recruitment? What implications will this have for our admissions processes that frequently involve professors agreeing to fund students under their grants?

We understand and appreciate that there is a great deal of variability across course-based master's programs at the University of Alberta. We want to ensure that we're not disrupting the patterns of recruitment that support these kinds of programs, so we have identified certain course-based masters that would benefit from a more generalized recruitment approach that could be more efficient through aggregated recruitment. The RO will continue to work with the programs where these are housed, or the departments where more generalized, non-thesis or non-research course-based masters exist. We want to maintain the kind of recruitment where professors are able to work through their networks to identify and support students that might be interested in these types of programs. We are not looking to take that over into the central function. We want to focus more on taught masters that aren't designed to necessarily streamline into PhD programs. We also recognize the interplay between the admissions practices and recruitment that needs to be preserved.

Ultimately, we're looking to take on some work that's "net new" for the university in many ways, which are those taught programs at the master's level where we can look to recruit overseas as well as within Canada in a more aggregated manner, but that will still include conversation in consultation with the programs.


How will you commit to meaningful engagement with support staff as we move forward into this next growth and evaluation phase?

Student services leadership and the SET student services workstream have been talking to many staff across the entire spectrum of student services and greatly value their input. In a complete redesign such as this, we want to ensure that we're connecting with everyone right from our end clients and users, or students in this case, right through to the folks in the frontline delivery, all the way up to those who have the accountability and responsibility for delivering on this. We have multiple mechanisms to ensure that these interactions do occur and that the input is gathered as we move forward.


The overall student services vision includes the Student Service Centre being the one-stop-shop for all students, including graduate students. How does growing the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR,) rather than moving some graduate student services into the Registrar's Office (RO), fit with the overall vision when the Student Service Centre will have to refer graduate students over to FGSR?

FGSR and the RO are working closely together to identify which services should be delivered where. We recognize that there is a suite of services within FGSR that are very particular to graduate students and will always remain within FGSR to ensure graduate students' needs are met appropriately. Through working together, we're looking to identify what makes sense to transition so that students can access services in one space through the Student Service Centre, and which work will be better served by remaining within FGSR. Ultimately, our goal is to streamline the student experience so that there are the appropriate services in the RO and the appropriate services being delivered from FGSR.


To what extent were Augustana students or the Augustana Students' Association consulted?

When we conducted our initial consultations with the student associations, we primarily focused on the Students' Union and the Graduate Students' Association. From there, we expanded our consultations to the Aboriginal Students' Society and other student groups. We have been in discussion with Augustana Campus throughout the process of strategic transformation and have consulted with the Augustana student services team specifically to ensure the needs of Augustana students are maintained and that services are managed appropriately by the Student Service Centre.

What is changing to eliminate the duplication between the Registrar's Office and the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (i.e. admissions, student supports, etc.)?

Both units are currently engaged in a discovery project which involves process mapping and a service inventory to identify opportunities for efficiencies and building capacity. Through this project, we are reviewing many different areas from both a student and staff perspective to ensure services will be as effective as possible.

It is important to make the distinction that services provided by the RO and FGSR are serving two different student constituencies. A process like "admissions" may sound the same on the surface, but is in fact very different because of the distinct nature of the programs and the students who are applying to them. Through the discovery process we are currently engaged in, we are ensuring that we have clarity to deliver parallel services in support of different kinds of programs and different students across the university. In the end we will look to ensure that there is an appropriate division of labor between the two units and this will include adjustments where needed to where services are delivered.


What is happening to the units/teams and services that are not represented in the Student Services service catalogue?

Generally, if you do not see a particular unit/team or service represented in the service catalogue, there is no change. We know that there are many services that go beyond what we've fully identified in the current service catalogue. What we've tried to do is create a picture that encompasses the majority of services that are offered, recognizing that it's not fully comprehensive in places. Where there is an omission, that omission indicates that it is preserved as-is. For example, if there is a service that exists in the faculty that is not identified in the catalogue, it will be remaining in the faculty. The service catalogue is a starting point for conversation on the changes that we need to make and the processes that we want to continue to explore.


It was stated that students value personal interactions with advisors. However, this type of relationship building is going to be lost if there is a central Student Service Centre where students will be treated as numbers. Can you please speak to this?

First and foremost, no student that comes to the Student Service Centre will be treated like a number; the advisors that work within the Student Service Centre truly value the opportunity to engage with students. They also recognize the difference in the work that they do versus the work that their colleagues do at the program level, and both are equally important to preserve.

This centralization is not about homogenization. It is about a student experience that is underpinned by a better and more comprehensive ecosystem: one that helps a student have an easier time finding their way at the U of A and also helps them feel supported from that first connection point through to graduation; even more than they do now. We've had such amazing pockets of individual interactions between students and fantastic service providers, and that will continue to be enhanced. What we're going to do now is link up those interactions just a little bit better so that the path for students through the university is much more seamless. It's not about trying to take away those great interactions that happen at the department and faculty level; that's going to still happen around program advising. It's a matter of continuing to have good interactions in central services that are better connected to the work that's happening across the university, so that students can always start at the same front door, which is that Student Service Centre.


Can you please share the survey that was sent to students? It would be valuable to see the questions and responses.

The survey, conducted in spring 2021 was sent to 184 undergraduate and graduate students, and focused on current services. In addition to the student survey, we engaged in a series of direct interviews and roundtable discussions with students and stakeholders to have interpersonal consultations. The findings from the student survey are summarized in a graph here.

Diagram of the results of the student survey

  • Top 5 used student services (in number of responses: Participants are allowed to select multiple answers)
    • Department undergrad advisor: 79
    • Faculty student service office: 71
    • Student Connect: 68
    • Academic Success Centre: 32
    • Centre for Writers: 30
  • Top 5 preferred way to access (in number of responses: Participants are allowed to select multiple answers)
    • Email: 153
    • In-person: 133
    • Virtual meeting: 88
    • Phone: 73
    • Website/chatbot: 44
  • Top 5 factors of importance when accessing student services (in score. [Overall ranking was determined by assigning each factor with a score based on individual rankings. (1 = lowest ranking, 4 = highest ranking)]
    • Quality of advice: 482
    • Availability and easy access: 399
    • Human interaction: 198
    • Simple process: 187
    • Timeliness: 173



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