Staff fear Massey University is preparing to make significant job cuts, with proposed new rules that will eliminate some courses.
The university was consulting on a policy for dealing with courses with low enrolments, and a policy that would ensure each subject had just one physical campus for in-person teaching unless it could be justified financially.
"While progress has been made on reducing courses, specialisations and programmes with low enrolments, this work must now urgently advance," a university message to staff said.
"The imperative for this is clear: there are significant costs associated with supporting a broad academic offer, including the costs of supporting too many courses with too few students and managing the cost of staffing. Given the financial challenges the university is now facing, we must now prioritise this work without delay.
"The Low and No Enrolment Policy and Procedures have served to guide decision making over the past three years, but we must now fully implement these (and monitor on a regular basis) to ensure our ongoing financial sustainability."
One staff member told RNZ they feared the plans would lead to the biggest layoffs Massey had ever seen. Another said the proposals had generated a mix of fear and resignation among staff, and it appeared the number of job losses would be significant.
They said the university had published a list of all its courses with those considered to have low enrolments coloured red, and those with good enrolments coloured black.
"There were more reds than blacks, so it's quite significant."
Tertiary Education Union Massey organiser Ben Schmidt said the university had refused to say how many courses or jobs might be cut.
"What we have heard is members contacting us with real concern saying that the areas, the disciplines they teach in would not meet these targets, especially from the humanities and social sciences and the sciences and that they're really fearful.
"The university is saying that they would, for example, deem an undergraduate qualification anything less than 50 EFTS (equivalent full-time students) per year would be considered to be low EFTS and therefore would likely be on the chopping block."
Schmidt said the university should pause following this week's announcement of a government funding boost for degree and postgraduate enrolments.
"In light of the government's funding announcement in particular, these changes are not necessary. They would cause huge harm for staff, students and the wider community.
"What the university needs to do is press pause on these policies, not go ahead, and start having a real conversation with staff, with the union, about a constructive way forward."
In a statement, the university said it was working to understand the effect of the government's recently-announced funding package.
"The funding is unlikely to resolve the longer-term financial challenges faced by the sector in this economic climate. Therefore, to ensure our university has a sustainable future, we are focused on the important work of examining the university's academic offering to reduce the proportions of courses with low enrolment, along with other strategic initiatives."
Massey made a deficit of $8.8 million after enrolments fell last year, and enrolments have fallen again this year.