Victoria University is looking to increase fees for its education, humanities and social sciences papers by eight per cent next year - double the increase allowed by law.
Students have warned that the move will make tertiary education inaccessible, but senior management defended it as necessary to meet increasing costs.
Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh said the decision to raise fees, made at a meeting of the University Council last month, had been "difficult" but that government limits on fee-setting had entrenched discrepancies between universities.
He said Victoria University had the lowest fees for undergraduate courses in education, humanities and social sciences in the country, costing it around $2.3 million a year.
"We're not looking to increase fees by a large amount.
"This is about creating a level playing field for all universities."
Fees for a year's study at Victoria's faculties of education or humanities and social studies are at least $445 less than those at Auckland and Waikato universities - a difference of nine per cent.
Under government policy, tertiary education organisations are not permitted to increase course fees by more than four per cent a year - although the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) may grant permission to exceed the four per cent limit in "exceptional circumstances".
Victoria University will submit its application for exemption this week.
If approved, the fee per point in education, humanities and social sciences undergraduate papers would go from $37.75 this year to $40.80.
Post-graduate courses in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences would increase from $52.55 per point to $56.75.
A TEC spokeswoman said it would take its board of commissioners "several weeks" to reach a decision.
Walsh said if the university's application was denied, fees would rise by four per cent.
Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association president Bridie Hood was against the move to increase fees at all, stating that students should not have to shoulder the burden of consistent under-funding in the tertiary sector.
"Victoria has taken pride in its slogan ‘Get amongst the best' - but for students this slogan is fast transforming into ‘Get amongst the rich'.
"The vast majority of students do not buy or support the argument that an increase in their fees will result in increased quality."
Hood said VUWSA would make a submission on the university's application to the TEC.
But Chancellor Ian McKinnon said fee increases were needed in order to cover fixed costs faced by the university - though he admitted that some members of the University Council had voted against the proposal.
"It is not an easy task, raising fees, because we know it can have a negative effect on students, but at the same time, we have to be realistic.
"We have to pay lecturers the same as Auckland does, but our fees are substantially less - even by raising them by eight per cent, we're not going to catch up with theirs.
"Students want to feel as though their degree is internationally recognised and respected, and quality comes with costs."
No other university had applied to TEC for exemption as of Friday.
- Sunday Star Times