Four hundred jobs are to go at the University of Manchester to clear a £30m debt, it has emerged.
The university admitted that it is looking to make voluntary redundancies to offset the debt, which was created by the merger between the Victoria Manchester University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist) in 2004.
There are no plans for compulsory job cuts.
But the promise has failed to reassure the university lecturers' union, which is opposed to any jobs disappearing and has accused the university of mismanagement. David Beale, from the Manchester branch of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "We do not accept these redundancies and the vice-chancellor has yet to make a financial case for them.
"Despite the vice-chancellor's reassurance that there will be no compulsory redundancies, the voluntary severance deal is poor and any job losses will greatly intensify the work loads for those who remain."
Richy Carrothers, the union's full-time regional officer for the north west, said although he knew there were "financial problems", the first he discovered the scale of the debt was at a briefing a week ago.
The UCU was unable to say how many of the 400 jobs would be academic posts. But it said the university was "privately" hoping that lecturers would come forward because their departure would save the most money, claimed Mr Carrothers.
The union is advising its members not to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy as it believes the offer on the table "is not good enough," he confirmed.
The lecturers' union want the university to introduce a recruitment moratorium while discussions continue about the redundancy package and the £30m debt, he said.
He said: "The university is continuing to recruit at an awesome pace - they have sold the family silver without looking at the financial consequences."
A letter sent to all staff on March 2 by the university's president and vice-chancellor, Prof Alan Gilbert, explained the background to the debt and the need for job cuts.
A third of the debt was predicted following the merger of the two universities, and another £10m was due to a deliberate decision to move further into the red to build up the new university's research base. The remaining £10m can be attributed to the 10 per cent rise in the payroll following national wage settlements between 2005 and 2006 and the doubling of energy costs, he explained.
Prof Gilbert said the decision to transform a "very good university into a world leader" was "always going to involve genuine, effective 're-profiling', not just spectacular growth".
He said: "So while we continue to recruit researchers, scholars, teachers and support staff, and invest in those already here, we must also find ways to enable other colleagues, less comfortable with Manchester's ambitious 'step change' agenda, to leave the university voluntarily and with dignity."
A university spokesman confirmed 400 jobs were to go across the board and he denied that the university was hoping that lecturers would step forward.
Manchester was against a recruitment moratorium because it was committed to identifying and attracting "virtuoso" appointments, he said.
From the Guardian