Falling enrolments, particularly in some humanities subjects, has prompted Victoria University of Wellington to invite staff who are "ready to leave" to take voluntary redundancy.
The university's vice-chancellor, Grant Guilford, sent an email to all staff on Tuesday this week outlining the voluntary programme. That prompted the Tertiary Education Union to issue a statement calling on him to "come clean" about the university's future.
Speaking to BusinessDesk, Guilford said the university's 2019/20 budget was completed and showed the 3 per cent surplus required by the government of all universities.
But falling numbers of New Zealand school leavers and competition for international students meant the university felt it should take the "prudent step" of seeking a buffer against unexpected events.
"This is about giving us some freeboard in case there are shocks," he said.
In some areas, including science, healthcare and engineering and "some parts of the humanities", enrolment growth was strong, but staff-student ratios were getting out of kilter in some parts of the humanities, which he declined to name.
There were no targets for voluntary redundancies and the university reserved the right not to accept applications from academics in areas where there was strong enrolment demand.
Eligible staff have until March 29 to express interest in an offer.
TEU deputy secretary Nanette Cormack criticised what she said was a lack of consultation and due process, which "has left a huge question mark hanging over exactly what the VC is planning for the university".