Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Ian Young has backed down on his call for $40 million in budget cuts and 150 jobs to go by the end of the year.

Just six weeks after his shock announcement that the ANU was facing a financial crisis and could not remain internationally competitive with a surplus of just $14 million, Professor Young this afternoon wrote to staff saying efficiencies would be sought in administration over the next two years and he was seeking job losses through natural attrition, early retirement and voluntary redundancies.

Returning from overseas this afternoon, Professor Young said he had listened to what the university community had told him and decided to change his approach.

“That’s why you have a consultation process - if you’re not going to listen to people, there is no point in having one.”

In his email to staff, he said “We will commence a program of administrative business process re-engineering, as proposed. This will take up to two years to complete.”

“It is likely that this process will result in significant shifts in the mix of skills of our staff. Retraining and redeployment are potential outcomes. It is also possible that there may be a reduction in staff numbers. Should this be the case, then this would be achieved using a range of processes including: natural attrition, agreed separations and early retirement.”

Professor Young noted “Redundancy may still be necessary, but we would aim to explore other processes where feasible’’.

The National Tertiary Education Union expressed relief at the announcement this afternoon.

ACT division secretary Stephen Darwin said that while the union was prepared to work with Professor Young to recast his strategy, “we would warn him the overwhelming majority of staff firmly believe he has yet to make a convincing financial case for change, including his demand for a larger operating surplus.”

“In particular, the Vice Chancellor failed to provide adequate, clear and timely financial data to support his demand for a larger operating surplus.”

Staff wrote more than 100 negative submissions to the Vice-Chancellor and more than 300 took part in a rally last Thursday which marched upon the Chancellery.

Mr Darwin said of particular relief to staff was Professor Young’s commitment to use the Enterprise Agreement rather than retrospective relative performance appraisals which were being implemented at the University of Sydney in an attempt to shed more than 350 staff.

“We support the Vice Chancellor’s commitment to explore all processes other than forced redundancy as the basis for any future cost cutting initiatives,” Mr Darwin said.

 “Now is time for the Vice-Chancellor to re-engage with university staff and students to explore constructive strategies aimed at enhancing and expanding what the ANU can achieve.”

Professor Young said he believed the university was in a position to make considerable savings, which could be reinvested in academic programs.

He would be speaking with the College heads to explore savings and reinvestment strategies in the coming weeks and months.

Professor Young conceded his original call for $40 million in savings to be made by the end of the year was “too short a timeframe”.

He did not have a figure in mind regarding the final number of jobs he wanted the ANU to shed, and said he had “never drawn up a hit-list”.