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Union says university withholding information

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The National Tertiary Education Union has accused Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young of withholding this year's annual report accounts as he tries to cut $40 million from the budget.

The deadline for the first round of consultation with staff over their suggestions on how to shed an estimated 150 staff positions and some research functions ends on Friday.

Professor Young wrote to staff yesterday thanking them for their responses to date, and noted there had been some ''interesting submissions'' already.

He asked staff to consider ''How can we work and organise ourselves more efficiently? Do we need to do all the things we presently do? How can we ensure that we are allocating resources to get the best academic and administrative outcomes?''

But in a response to Professor Young's email, the union's ACT secretary Stephen Darwin asked for details of the university finances and a full briefing on its investment portfolio, superannuation liability and the effects of non-cash budget claims. ''Moreover, I would appreciate in tandem with these briefings, the simultaneous release of the actual financial data being considered, and most notably access to the currently embargoed annual report accounts, so we may subject the very significant financial claims made by the university to our own expert scrutiny.''

Mr Darwin said it was unacceptable to proceed to any further consultation stages before the union had a chance to assess the university's full financial state through the annual report.


''We simply cannot check the veracity of their financial claims until we see that report.'' He said the data the union had been presented with was speculation.

An ANU spokeswoman said yesterday the annual report was with Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans and the university was not at liberty to release it publicly until the senator tabled it in Parliament.

But as that could take until mid-May, she said Professor Young would write to Senator Evans and request that it be made available to the union as soon as possible.

The ANU's chief financial officer would also be on hand during a briefing - on Thursday - in which key elements of the budget would be dissected with union officials.

In his email to staff, Professor Young said he understood the decisions relating to cost-cutting would be difficult. ''But the aim is that we will ultimately free up resources to invest back into the university. These are the resources we need to carry out research and teaching at the highest level.

''Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that we are trying to do too many things with the resources we have available. I also believe we are entering a period where resources will be tight; governments will be focused on fiscal restraint, investment markets will remain volatile and long-term returns are likely to be lower than in the past. Also, the high Australian dollar will make international student growth challenging.''

Mr Darwin said the vice-chancellor's email was disappointing in that he ''failed to acknowledge, even in passing, the strong rejection by the ANU members of the union of the currently proposed 're-positioning' strategy.''

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