On September 21, 2020, there was a presentation by the AASUA (Association of Academic Staff of University of Alberta) and NASA (Non-Academic Staff Association) to their memberships. It was called Lessons From Down Under: Restructuring at the University of Sydney. The Associations discussed the restructuring that followed their senior administrations respective use of UniForum data.
A senior lecturer in the English and Linguistics department at the University of Sydney, Nick Riemer, described the work situation of restructuring and job loss for both academic and non-academic staff.
“We’re continually facing restructures, the goalposts are continually shifting, and that leads to a general climate of uncertainty, anxiety, and precarity. No one can take the institutional structure for granted or hope there’s some fair chance of an ongoing durable context for their work at the University. Everybody’s position is always under threat, and the organizational arrangements that really make our work possible are always up for grabs.” said Riemer.
Cuts and losses at the University of Alberta also followed. In late 2020, the University of Alberta began to implement its Service Excellence Transformation and transition plan. The University of Alberta has been using UniForum since 2017.
There are more similarities between the two institutions than meets the eye. There were severe provincial budget cuts in Alberta, and Australia and Alberta both implemented performance-based funding for post-secondary learning. Its important to keep in mind that not all institutions who have engaged UniForum have cut jobs or restructured as severely as these two institutions. In British Columbia, for example, performance-based funding isn't currently used at post-secondary institutions (more on this below).
What Is UniForum?
UniForum was created by an Australian partnership consisting of a vice-president of finance and an academic who wanted to improve the efficiency of administrative performance and provide robust data to a group of universities. Collaboration with other universities was vital; it promised universities a way to look at the effectiveness of administrative services across their respective institutions. The Australian government was moving towards a performance-based, data-driven funding model, and adopting UniForum made sense for many Australian post-secondary institutions. When the Nous Group bought UniForum from Cubane in 2021, the sale to a larger firm helped drive the international adoption of UniForum's services.
The UniForum model categorizes administrative jobs held by both professional and academic staff into activities. It then looks at ways to improve the “performance” of these activities by putting all of these activities into one position. For example, a student advisor in the World Literature department may be doing several tasks, advising, placing students into classes and doing other unit-specific administrative work. The model may then take the “advising” out of these roles and put it all in a centralized hub that would serve the entire University.
It’s a model that favours centralization. Implementation of these findings, however, depends on the objectives for using the system in the first place. UBC also uses UniForum but, in contrast to UniForum's centralization focus, UBC remains committed to a decentralized institutional model.
What Can APSA Members Expect from UniForum?
APSA is carefully observing UniForum's engagement by SFU and asking questions of the University's senior administration. While the BC government is exploring its current model of funding post-secondary institutions, it's unclear if the changes seen in Alberta to its post-secondary sector will be replicated here in BC.
A Suggestion for UniForum Users at SFU
Keep in mind that as your job activity coding is added to UniForum, your overtime or tasks outside your job scope are not added or used. We encourage you to keep your job description up-to-date and make sure that you are tracking your overtime.
We will continue to research this critical issue and inform you as we uncover new information in the coming weeks.