Maori and Pacific Island students are being used by Wellington's Victoria University to justify its bid to increase fees.
The university has applied to raise undergraduate education, social sciences and humanities fees by 8 per cent - double the maximum allowed under government restrictions - and says the revenue would allow Maori and Pacific Island students to achieve at higher levels.
Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh said higher fees for the courses, which had the highest proportion of Maori and Pasifika students, would allow the university to better support them.
"The Government is focusing on increasing Pasifika and Maori achievement, and we have been challenged to achieve outcome parity by 2018."
But he said universities were under financial pressure after the last Budget, when there was no increase in general funding for students.
The Tertiary Education Commission can grant such an increase if an organisation can show it would help Maori and Pasifika students.
Walsh said if the application were approved, the additional revenue would be put towards a "programme of learning support", to benefit all students in the faculties.
Education Ministry figures show participation rates for Maori aged 18 to 19 in degree-level study are less than half those for all students, and completion rates for Pasifika students are the lowest of any group.
The decision to apply for an exemption divided the university's governing body, with student magazine Salient reporting pro-chancellor Helen Sutch opposed the increases to humanities and social sciences, because of a high concentration of students from poor backgrounds.
Earlier this month Massey University also resolved to apply for permission to increase fees by 8 per cent. Auckland, Lincoln, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago are increasing fees for next year by 4 per cent across the board.
Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said rising fees could shut Maori, Pasifika and disadvantaged students out of tertiary education.
Meanwhile the lone student voice at the commission has been dumped ahead of any fee hike decisions.
The non-voting student representative had been expected to lobby against increases, but in a letter to the Union of Students Associations this month, commission chairman John Spencer said the position had been scrapped because, while the role had been useful in the past, the commission's work had changed and the "opportunity for meaningful input" had "significantly diminished".
Also scrapped was a "learners advisory committee" that gave a student view on policy decisions.
Labour tertiary education spokesman Grant Robertson said removing student representation was anti- democratic.Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said he wasn't worried. "It will have no impact on funding decisions because the student rep was an observer rather than a voting member."
- Sunday Star Times