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University seeking feedback on support services proposal

Friday, 14 July 2017 4:57pm

VC-July-forum-image
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne addresses staff at a staff forum this afternoon, while Wellington staff watching a livestream look on. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

University of Otago staff were today presented with a proposed University-wide re-configuration of support services. Staff have been asked for feedback on the business case for this proposal.

If the business case is adopted in its current form, it would see significant changes in the way a number of these services are configured, along with a reduction of 182 full-time equivalent general staff positions. The University currently employs approximately 2300 full-time equivalent general staff.

The Support Services Review began in September 2015.

In her address to staff, held early this afternoon at the University’s College of Education Auditorium and livestreamed for staff at the University’s Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill campuses, as well as those in Dunedin who were unable to attend in person, Vice-Chancellor Professor Hayne said: “If we are to maintain an environment of excellence, then we need to be strategic, focused and consistent in our operational approach to support services. This business case outlines an exciting new way to meet challenges in a sustainable way.”

"Given the last significant reviews were undertaken in the 20th century, when we were roughly half the size we are now and the technology revolution was in its infancy, it’s logical and responsible for us to take a hard look at our support operations."

Innovation, she said, has long been one of Otago’s defining characteristics. “If Otago is to continue to prosper as a world-class University, it must continue to innovate – including in the provision of support services.”

She added that the present proposal would also make Otago’s taxpayer and student/parent funding go even further to support the University’s core academic and research endeavours and to enhance the student experience.

It has now been more than 20 years since the way in which Otago’s administrative services are provided has been comprehensively reviewed.

“Given the last significant reviews were undertaken in the 20th century, when we were roughly half the size we are now and the technology revolution was in its infancy, it’s logical and responsible for us to take a hard look at our support operations.

“We have over 80 academic departments and multiple service divisions at Otago. Because of the highly devolved nature of the University, staff in departments and service divisions have responded to the need for additional services as growth has occurred. This response has generated a large number of locally-focused solutions.

“As many staff have acknowledged during our workshops these local solutions have led to an overly complex and potentially less efficient system. It is also an expensive system that sometimes thwarts our ability to achieve what we want to achieve.

"I assure staff that we do value them, and that we will do our utmost to offer support through this time ... We have important decisions to make, and I would very much appreciate the best possible input from staff."

“It is now time for us to consider a more holistic approach,” explained Professor Hayne. She added that a vital motivation for the changes was to provide a more seamless experience for our students.

“We understand how much our students value the learning and living services Otago provides. All of our courses and student services will continue to be delivered to a world-class standard. I am particularly excited about a number of initiatives in the business case that will help students make their way through our sometimes complex university systems more easily.”

When addressing staff, Professor Hayne fully acknowledged the review is creating anxiety and uncertainty for staff.

“Time is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people understandably want certainty quickly. On the other hand, because this is a once-in-a-generation change, we are taking our time to get this right, incorporating and considering extensive feedback from within the University community. The business case has been strengthened through extensive input from staff.

“I assure staff that we do value them, and that we will do our utmost to offer support through this time. I encourage staff to continue to engage constructively with the review team. We have important decisions to make, and I would very much appreciate the best possible input from staff.”

Background on the Support Services Business Case

The report on the proposed business case shared with staff today sets out a pathway to improve support services in a way that frees up resources for teaching and research, for the facilities that support these activities, and for further enhancements to the excellent quality of student learning at Otago. Staff are able to provide their feedback to the business case over the next six weeks, until 25 August.

The proposal reinforces academic decision-making in divisions and departments as the “essence” of the University, and this is an ethos that will continue to be maintained.

The report, by the support services project team, says problems highlighted during the 18-month review included that the University has a highly devolved structure that has sometimes become inefficient at using resources.

Types of activities that might benefit from this new proposed model include financial and administrative services, help-desk services and IT client support, procurement and purchasing, transactional finance, student administrative services and student engagement.

"It doesn’t necessarily involve shifting all support staff into one place – rather that some staff are centrally located whilst others would remain physically embedded in departments."

For example, one of the options outlined in the business case is to create a new contact centre that would amalgamate 11 different help desk services currently provided to staff, students and the public.

“Because of this, best practice and knowledge are difficult to share between staff among the different help desks,” the report says.

A multi-channelled centre called “AskOtago”, sitting at the heart of University support services, is one option to mitigate this. This would become the first port of inquiry for staff, students and the public.

A system of shared services brings disparate functions, systems and processes that operate standalone within departments under a single operating unit. The Executive Sponsor of the project, Kevin Seales, explained how this works:

“It doesn’t necessarily involve shifting all support staff into one place – rather that some staff are centrally located whilst others would remain physically embedded in departments. The common aspect is that they would all report directly to shared service management, rather than to the individual department,” said Mr. Seales.

Such “standardisation of processes” has the benefit of freeing up resources and the time of academic Heads of Department for teaching, research, and academic leadership; it provides better and clearer career pathways for support staff; better equity in pay and the evaluation of positions; is likely to result in greater financial efficiency; and ensure less duplication of the same services across departments. It also would promote best practice in all services concerned.

“The proposal would provide better student experiences, especially in streamlining interactions with administration. It would also enable Departmental Heads to focus on academic leadership to support teaching and research, without the complication of directly managing support services,” says Mr. Seales.

Key facts:

  • The University has approximately 3800 equivalent full-time staff (EFTS) and over 18,000 equivalent full-time students.
  • The business case proposes a reduction in general of 182 full-time equivalent positions from across support services at the University.
  • The majority of job changes are proposed to be completed by mid-2018.
  • An outcome of the changes could be ongoing savings of $16.7m annually.
  • If adopted, the proposal will free up over 7000 square metres of space.
  • Consultation on the proposal with staff ends on 25 August.
  • The review is of support staff, and not academic staff. It aims to make institution-wide improvements that will allow a clearer focus when it comes to supporting teaching, research and student experience.
  • This period of consultation over the next six weeks is still within the “solution design” phase.
  • So far, during the solution design phase, 142 workshops were held, and attended by over 1200 staff.
  • The final decision on the business case is planned to be communicated to staff in mid-September.
  • The need for this review was made explicit by the University’s strategic plan, Strategic Direction to 2020. This strategy states that “universities must evolve to meet the challenges of a changing world” and says that “particularly when funded from public sources, they must also be mindful of the need to manage risk effectively and use resources efficiently”.
  • A number of the leading universities in Australia and New Zealand have already completed similar reviews and made significant changes in recent years. Others are planning such changes.