The Australian National University has frozen all new recruitment for non-academic administrative staff as it grapples with a $51 million budget cut over the next two years.
The National Tertiary Education Union warned that front-line services would be the first hit with the immediate freeze affecting student support, IT support, technical services and broader university administrative and support services.
Vice-chancellor Ian Young said recruitment for front-line services would be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure a minimal impact on the university community.
He would hold 20 forums with staff and students in the coming weeks to decide a long-term solution and the freeze was temporary.
But the union said the decision to impose the recruitment freeze had been made without consulting staff and the ANU was in a position to ''be able to absorb these recently announced budget cuts''.
NTEU ACT division secretary Stephen Darwin said the ANU had recorded an operating surplus of $82 million and accumulated surpluses of $860 million in its last reported results.
But Professor Young said that after ''years of one-off capital grants creating large surpluses, this year will be a challenge and we do not expect any surplus. We are currently working to assess the likely size of losses for 2014, 2015 and 2016.''
The union and ANU management are attempting to conclude wage negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.
While the union was expecting to receive a pay offer on Monday, that has been deferred until the consultation process for the budget cuts is completed.
Mr Darwin said management was ''looking to further erode working conditions of staff and the learning experiences of students by even more internal cuts''.
In a letter to Professor Young, Mr Darwin said: ''ANU staff, who are patiently awaiting a salary offer to supplement the productive negotiations currently concluding for a new enterprise agreement, are reasonably expecting to be properly remunerated for their impressive contribution to the success of the institution.
''It would be most destructive for these cuts to be crudely passed on as lessened working conditions and remuneration.''
The union will call mass meetings of staff soon to discuss the cuts.