The National Tertiary Education Union has slammed the financial management of the Australian National University as an audit into its governance arrangements is under way.
NTEU ACT division secretary Dr Cathy Day said if it was true that the university went from a $300 million surplus in 2019 to a $219 million deficit in 2020 through a decision to reduce student intake, it showed "absolutely disastrous financial planning".
The Australian National Audit Office has called for public submissions as part of its audit into the university's governance arrangements.
The audit is in addition to the regular annual audit of financial statements.
In an update to staff, ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the university had fared worse from COVID-19 than other universities because it chose to decrease student intake for 2020.
"So despite having a very large surplus in 2018 and 2019, our fractional decrease in student numbers is amongst the largest in the sector," he said.
The vice-chancellor said the deficit for 2020 would be as expected.
The news comes as staff and students are reeling from the latest round of job cuts, this time in the College of Health and Medicine.
Under the proposed changes, 22 jobs would be cut and the neuroscience division would be axed.
The dean of the College of Health and Medicine, Professor Russell Gruen, told staff the college had been allocated $54.7 million as its operating budget in 2021, which is about $9 million less than expected.
"There is no way of gilding this. Losing 10 per cent of our people is not something we want to do, we would not do it if we had a choice, and is not something that, 12 months ago, we had contemplated having to do," Professor Gruen said.
"It pains me, as your dean, to stand before you and tell you this is what we have to do."
Orlando Rosas discovered he would be losing his administration job alongside three of his team members.
"It seems like the professional staff are always targeted," he said.
"I don't understand how they can completely get rid of all the administrative officers in the school."
He said the delay in releasing the change management proposal had taken a toll on staff mental health.
"We've already made many sacrifices to save money," he said.
"We didn't even get a pay rise last year because apparently we all voted to not get a pay rise to save jobs."
Dr Day said academics would be less efficient without the support staff.
"They've targeted the poorest, weakest and least visible people," she said.
"Morale here is rock bottom."
Neuroscience PhD student Nathan Reynolds said students felt the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience had been unfairly targeted compared to other areas of the college.
"It's a huge loss for the ANU and science in Australia," Mr Reynolds said.
"The institute is doing research in areas like cell communication, autism, Parkinson's disease, macular degeneration."
He said there were 100 students in the specialty and some postdoctoral researchers had moved from overseas.
Staff and students are preparing an alternative proposal during the two-week consultation period.
Dr Day said cutting jobs connected to health and medicine research did not make sense during a pandemic.
An ANU spokesman described the cuts to the college as unavoidable.
"The college's proposed plan aims to ensure any change means minimal job losses, minimises the impact of any job losses, while maintaining the college's vital and world-class work as much as is possible," he said.
"The plan aims to ensure we can deliver on our core activities and strategic priorities, by first narrowing the focus of activities that core funds support, and second, undertaking significant reorganisation to consolidate and create efficiencies."
The spokesman said cuts to professional staff were in line with the university's review of professional services.
"This includes increased collaboration, consolidation and streamlining of current work and service delivery to improve the support and services for education and research within a financially constrained operating environment."
He said a Centre for Health Education and Leadership would be created to relieve academic staff from high teaching-related administrative workloads.
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