University of Saskatchewan releases TransformUS action plan

As part of the final phase of TransformUS, the University of Saskatchewan released an action plan to the campus community today outlining changes to come as part of the ongoing transformation of the university.

In a process that began in January 2013, the university undertook an extensive and comprehensive prioritization process to examine all academic programs and administrative support services. Two task forces reviewed and prioritized all program and services which culminated in two reports with recommendations in December 2013. Following a period of consultation with the campus community, alumni, donors and the general public, an action plan was developed by leaders of the university to summarize decisions, recommendations and next steps.

"The provost's committee on integrated planning has honoured my request and created an action plan that has taken the essence of the task force reports and transformed them into a set of actions," said President Ilene Busch-Vishniac. "These actions align with the new vision of the university: to be recognized among the most distinguished research-intensive universities in North America and leaders in selected areas of education and research. Key to achieving this vision is ensuring the university's financial sustainability, where we place our resources solidly behind our priorities with a focus on the core missions of learning and discovery."

Brett Fairbairn, provost and vice-president academic, stressed that the plan is a reflection of the involvement of the campus community, and will require the collective effort of the campus community to see the actions through to completion.

"The action plan outlines four themes which will come to life through a series of projects," Fairbairn explained. "These projects are based on extensive discussions with college, school and unit leaders. We are now relying on leaders at all levels of the university to work together with students and faculty to determine how these recommendations can be implemented in a coordinated way, while improving programs for our students, providing students and faculty with the support they need, and finding significant savings and efficiencies."

The four themes—simplify and amalgamate structures, focus on core mission, share services: work together across unit boundaries and incorporate prioritization into ongoing practice—will be implemented through 19 projects that will begin over the course of the year. Implementation of this plan will involve projected reductions of $25.3 million in annual expenses. Some projects are anticipated to be completed by the end of 2014, while timelines for academic changes may take several years because all academic decisions must go through formal academic governance processes. Beginning in 2015/16, selective investments of up to $5 million will be made in programs and units that align with institutional priorities, support the learning and discovery missions of the university, and advance the university's overall goals.

The action plan includes significant reduction and streamlining of administrative functions, services and leadership, a key theme in the task force reports, and one heard in consultations.

"To best support our students, we need to ensure our administrative support functions are focused squarely on our core missions," said Greg Fowler, vice-president finance and resources. "This plan sets us firmly on that path, specifically with regard to reductions in the size of our senior administration and changes made within administrative structures through shared services. Our campus community has asked us to take a look at the size of our senior administration and actions within this plan will result in a reduction to the size of our senior administrative group, making our group one of the smallest within the U15, a group of Canada's top 15 research intensive universities."

TransformUS is one of seven broader initiatives that the university is currently undertaking to address a projected $44.5 million deficit in the university's operating budget by 2016. While specifics are not known, the university will need to further trim its work force through TransformUS and other operating budget adjustment initiatives given that about 75 per cent of its operating budget is salaries and benefits.

"We are taking steps now to make our university a stronger, more focused organization, and so we are not revisiting this type of exercise in a few years," added Fowler. "I know this is a challenging time for our employees and change brings both uncertainty and opportunity. I want to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work and dedication of so many people who work at and support the university today."

Other highlights in the plan include proposals to combine programs and services in both academic and administrative areas, such as incorporating the School of Public Health within the umbrella of the College of Medicine, to reorganize the programs offered through the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education into academic units, and shared services - a large project that spans the whole university and aims to redesign the way professional services like financial, advancement and facilities support is offered to campus units. Restructuring of this nature is intended to reduce duplication or parallel services, reduce cost and enable the university to have greater impact through fewer units.

The action plan is available at


Action plan highlights:


Reduce and restructure senior leadership

Changes will be made to direct reports to the four vice-presidents, vice-presidential portfolio offices and within central administrative offices, including reductions in numbers of directors, increases in spans of control and changes to titles. This restructuring will result in the university having one of the smallest senior administrations among our U15 peers.

Reorganize central services for teaching, learning and the student experience

The oversight of graduate education, support services for undergraduate and graduate students, and academic and administrative structures will be improved by streamlining and simplifying structures.

Projects in this area are intended to provide better and more efficient services to students and to support teaching and learning with more simplified structures that will be easier for students to access. Examples here include: a proposal to disestablish the College of Graduate Studies and Research and create a new model for the oversight of graduate education that is better linked with the Student and Enrolment Services Division; the transfer of student functions from the University Learning Centre to the University Library; the dissolution of Education and Media Production (eMap) by narrowing its scope to activities that support teaching and learning and moving those services to the units where the service is most needed.

Reorganize health science administrative structures

The current council of health science deans will be reconceptualized to provide more effective leadership for the academic programming and research initiatives anticipated by the reconfiguration of health sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. One significant project will look to combine the strengths of the School of Public Health and the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine.

Reconfiguration campus libraries

This project continues an initiative that has already commenced in direct response to user needs. It is aimed at consolidating the library's collection and service footprint and to deliver library service more efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.

Reorganize and simplify related cross college programming

Areas of related programming that straddle two or more colleges/schools will be examined to identify where there are opportunities to combine resources to create much stronger programs with higher profile and impact. Examples include business policy and applied economics, environmental studies, food and nutrition and biomedical sciences.

Focus on core mission

The university will concentrate its resources on activities that are central to its academic mission (e.g. degree-credit programming), and will reduce or stop activities that are peripheral. As part of this, the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education will be disestablished from its current form and any non-degree or outreach programming will be provided by academic units only where they are essential to the unit's core academic mission. Administrative units will be redesigned around supporting colleges and academic units rather than undertaking outreach or service on their own.


Financial sustainability by 2016

In May 2012, the university projected a $44.5 million gap between revenue and expenditures by 2016 if no actions were taken. To date, $15.5 million in permanent savings has been found. Operating budget adjustments (OBA) provides a strategic framework to eliminate this financial challenge and transform the university into a sustainable and more focused and efficient institution, working toward a common vision. Seven strategies are underway within OBA: TransformUS, total compensation and rewards, workforce planning, maximizing the value of university spend, revenue generation and diversification, reduction of our institutional footprint and organizational design. For more information and updates, visit


About TransformUS

Over the course of 2013 and early 2014, the University of Saskatchewan is undertaking a program prioritization process called TransformUS. TransformUS is a simultaneous and comprehensive review of all academic programs and academic and administrative support services that use university resources. Two task forces, made up of faculty, staff and student representatives, prepared a report of recommendations that were released to the campus in December 2013. These reports were one of the multiple points of feedback that informed the decisions in the TransformUS action plan released in spring 2014. The goal of this project (one of the seven OBA projects) is to find $20-25 million in permanent savings, or approximately five per cent of our total operating budget. Of this, $5 million will be reallocated to top priority programs and services that would benefit from increased resources. For more information, visit

Note to editors: Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn and Vice-President Finance and Resources Greg Fowler will be available for media interviews on April 30, 2014 from 3 pm to 5 pm and May 1, 2014 from 8 am to 9 am.

To schedule an interview, please contact:

Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations Specialist

University of Saskatchewan

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