Cambridge University has had to bring in emergency measures following problems with a new Pounds 8 million financial accounts system.
The university has conceded that emergency procedures are necessary in response to a flood of complaints that the Capsa accounting system is failing.
Staff have warned that the university could grind to a halt as systems failures block the payment of salaries, expenses and invoices. Access to research grants has also been hampered.
The Capsa steering committee, led by university treasurer Joanna Womack, has issued a memo to staff saying: "Everyone is aware of the extreme stress that has been created by the inability of departments to carry out apparently simple tasks, such as placing orders and paying bills."
The committee agreed that the software was "unacceptably slow".
Scrapping Capsa and returning to the old system has been ruled out. The previous methods were "no longer acceptable from a professional accounting perspective", and the university has to implement a system "that will satisfy the Higher Education Funding Council, the internal and external auditors and the VAT authorities".
Departments have been told to disregard Capsa for stock control. Invoices are to be paid through Capsa but, "if there are difficulties, the emergency procedures issued by the director of finance should be used".
Oracle, Capsa's manufacturer, is working on the problems.
Staff have collected signatures to force an emergency meeting of the university's senate house.