Welcome to the Faculty of Science Strategic Planning Blog

Welcome to the Faculty of Science Strategic Planning Blog

Thank you for visiting our blog. The Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta is developing a new five-year strategic plan. We need your help in creating a vision for the future. What should we be doing today to set the Faculty up for further success five years from now? Ten years from now? Let's be bold. Let's be creative. Let's create a plan that is challenging but realistic to achieve. Together we can chart a course that will engage our talented students, staff, and faculty members as we work to advance the frontiers of knowledge to the benefit of our community, province, country, and the world.

Please contribute your ideas and feedback. I hope to have all the input needed for the plan by the end of June, and then write the document over the summer.

Friday, 9 May 2014

An Overarching BHAG?

In creating a long-range plan for the Faculty of Science, it may be useful to have an overarching goal -- one that encompasses many of the objectives in the plan. This is not a requirement, just a suggestion. If we want an overarching goal, then here is a possible BHAG:

Achieve a ratio of 4 undergraduate students to one graduate student (4:1).

It sounds innocuous, but in reality it is a challenging objective. For September 2013, the Faculty of Science had an undergraduate to graduate student ratio of close to 5.4:1. For September 2014, the ratio will fall, possibly to 5.6:1. We are going in the wrong direction. The vast majority of top non-Canadian research universities have ratios less than 3:1; some even have larger graduate populations than undergraduate. In Canada, a 4:1 ratio seems more common. The following table shows institutional averages (not just Science) for representative Canadian and U.S. research-intensive universities.

British Columbia
4.0 : 1
2.1 : 1
1 : 2.0
1 : 1
4.2 : 1

UG:GS ratios for select schools (wikipedia and home pages)

What would it take to achieve a 4:1 ratio? It would require concerted effort on several fronts:
  • Control the undergraduate population. There is unprecedented demand for a Faculty of Science education. We currently have 6,450 undergraduate students, despite being funded for only 6,100.
  • Increase the number of graduate students. Last year our population size was roughly 1,200 but budget cutbacks caused us to revise our target lower.
  • Increase the size of the professoriate. At its peak, the Faculty had 300 professors. Several years of budget cuts and last year's Voluntary Severance Program will bring us down to less than 280.
  • Increase the level and types of departmental and Faculty support. The budget cuts have been particularly hard on the support staff, who have done an amazing job of doing more with less.
  • Increase our research funding. In particular, there will be even greater need for funding graduate students.
Here are some sample numbers to put the above in perspective. Please do not take this as a given -- the numbers were chosen because it makes the math simple.
  • Grow the graduate population to 1,440. This was one of the original targets set in justifying the cost of building CCIS.
  • This implies having an undergraduate population of 5,760, achieving a 4:1 ratio.
  • Faculty members supervise an average of 4 graduate students. With a smaller undergraduate population, there will be more professor time for graduate supervision. Let's assume we can increase the number of graduate students per professor to 4.5.
  • The above implies the need for a professoriate of 320 professors. If we maintain an average of 4 graduate students per professor, the professoriate would have to grow to 360.
Of course there are political and financial realities that make the above numbers a challenge to accomplish. Regardless, we can set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and do our best to achieve it. There is no doubt that our undergraduate student to graduate student ratio must be lowered, so let's be ambitious and work towards a ratio that will have a major impact on what we can accomplish.

Over to you. What do you think about this BHAG? Do you have other suggestions for an overarching BHAG for the Faculty of Science?

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