Lincoln University's vice-chancellor Professor Robin Pollard has refused to elaborate on why he reportedly said the university would be "dead" in a year.

On August 8, Prof Pollard told staff at a meeting "we have one year to get to surplus or we are dead".

The comment was raised in Parliament by NZ First MP Tracey Martin last month.

Ms Martin asked Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment acting minister Louise Upston whether she was aware Mr Pollard had made the "dead" in a year comment to staff.

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The university has been under dire financial pressure, after a recorded $6 million loss in the last financial year.

It is looking to slash "unpopular courses" in a bid to save millions.

In response to Ms Martin, Ms Upston said there were challenges in "returning to profitability" for the university.

Prof Pollard did not deny he made the comment but said it "was taken out of context".

He refused to clarify what he meant and how it had been taken out of context. He would only say it was made "in the context of the university's need for transformation".

"Financial viability is important but any suggestion that Lincoln University only has a year to achieve viability is superficial and taken out of context," he said.

Prof Pollard said he wanted the university to "flourish well into the future" and to make it financially viable, costs had to be reduced and revenue increased.

There have been a series of high-profile resignations, with five deputy vice-chancellors resigning this year.

Prof Pollard's lack of communication has been slammed by the Tertiary Education Union.

TEU organiser Cindy Doull said it had sent six letters to Mr Pollard asking for more information on the definition of an "unpopular course", how it would return to surplus and impact on staff.

He has not replied to any of the letters.

"He just ignores them. We feel like we are talking to ourselves. He just doesn't respond," she said.

Ms Doull said it would be upsetting to staff to hear the comment without Prof Pollard elaborating further.

"It is a nightmare for people with so much uncertainty about what is going on. We have seen a significant increase in anxiety levels and depressive illnesses . . . this has been four years of uncertainty on top of the earthquakes," she said.

Yesterday, the university announced that it has received an $11 million partial insurance settlement from Vero, for damage caused by the September 4, 2010, earthquake.

The settlement covered 140 smaller buildings at the Lincoln campus.

The pay-out means the university can begin initiating its campus master plan, including refurbishments or creating new buildings, said Prof Pollard.