Incoming U of A president pitches fewer faculties, administration after provincial budget cuts

Click to play video: 'New University of Alberta president proposes major restructuring'
New University of Alberta president proposes major restructuring
WATCH: (May 26) University of Alberta president-elect Bill Flanagan says a major funding shortfall by the Alberta government has prompted the school to start restructuring now. As Kendra Slugoski explains, he is proposing combining some of the 18 faculties to save money — but it could lead to more layoffs – May 26, 2020

The incoming president of the University of Alberta gave a presentation Tuesday that gave a glimpse into his plans for the institution going forward, including pitches for a major restructuring of the school and a reduction in faculties.

Bill Flanagan, who will take his role as the university’s president on July 1, said during an online town hall that a new plan was needed after provincial budget cuts led to 1,000 staff being cut from the school.

“What we’re [currently] asking our staff to do, is to do the same amount of work, in the same way, but with 1,000 fewer staff members. This is simply an unsustainable load for our remaining staff.”

Flanagan is pitching the university reduce its faculties from the current 18 down to nine. He said this could save the school $26 million in operational costs and $18 million in academic capability.

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“Fewer faculties and departments would enable lower per-student costs through the reduced duplication of functions… and fewer, better supported academic leaders,” Flanagan said.

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta athletics facing financial shortfall'
University of Alberta athletics facing financial shortfall

He also said the university should make sweeping changes to its administration services with a focus on more specialization in staff, which he said would save $95 million over a two-year period.

“I think the choice for us is, we either take that cut and sprinkle it across the institution in a way that is not particularly strategic that will be highly damaging to the university, or we seize the opportunity to ensure that we address these budget cuts in a way that is strategic,” Flanagan said.

Currently 57 per cent of the staff at the U of A are focused on administration.

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Alberta’s minister of advanced education said in a statement Tuesday that he believes the plan is a step in the right direction.

“I applaud Dr. Flanagan for his common sense approach to creating a more efficient institution,” Demetrios Nicolaides said.

“As I have said in the past, Alberta has one of the most expensive post-secondary systems and we must find innovative and transformative solutions to bring costs down and improve the student experience,” read the statement. “I am absolutely confident that Dr. Flanagan’s plan will achieve just that.

“Dr. Flanagan noted that the U of A has many small courses with low enrolment and high administrative costs that divert important funds away from the university’s core mission. Dr. Flanagan and the U of A are leading the way and I expect other institutions to follow suit.”

According to the university, it will be losing $110 million in grants and funding for the 2020/21 school year, and a net total of $127 million in lost budget over the period between 2019 and 2023.  That lost budget number takes into account $89 million in tuition the school will take in during that same period.

Flanagan said Tuesday his faculty change and administration restructuring proposal would save the school over $120 million.

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The university is launching an academic restructuring group that will officially decide what changes will be made going forward. They will also need to be approved by the university’s board of governors.

Click to play video: 'Alberta students call for reduced tuition as universities release fall semester details'
Alberta students call for reduced tuition as universities release fall semester details

Which faculties would be reduced would be determined by the restructuring group.

“Our clock is very very tight on this,” Steven Dew, the university’s academic vice president, said. “We need to demonstrate savings starting in this fiscal year… so all of this work has to move incredibly quickly and so this committee and its work needs to get started immediately.”

The U of A used data collection program UniForum to analyze its operating costs and compare them to other universities.

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Flanagan also said he hopes to increase the university enrolment by 50,000 students by 2025 and hopes to attract them by focusing on technology-enhanced teaching and work-integrated learning.

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