Some Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi students are backing the wānanga's push to be recognised as an indigenous university, despite opposition from mainstream universities.
A PhD student and PhD graduate of Te Awanuiārangi believe the school’s academic quality is second to none.
"The pioneers of Te Awanuiārangi were professors from Victoria (university) and other Pākehā universities who brought their skills and academic knowledge to establish the wānanga with a Māori perspective," said student Reuben Collier.
"The taumata or the level that you will find here is, I believe it's world class," said Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena.
In a Facebook post, Te Awanuiārangi council member Sir Harawira Gardiner highlighted their push to receive indigenous-university status that will enable them to attract overseas students. The Vice Chancellors of eight universities disagree with the move.
Universities New Zealand Chair Professor Stuart McCutcheon said, "One of the characteristics of the university in the act is that their teaching is largely done by people who are active in research. And the fact of the matter is that in the wānanga and in the ITPs they do not meet that characteristic. So this is about understanding the nature of a diverse education system, it's got nothing to with racism at all."
"To say that we don't meet that standards in terms of being a university for me that's inherently institutional racism," said Dr Waretini-Karena.
Last month, Te Awanuiārangi delivered their submission to the Education and Science select committee on the Education Amendment Bill that will give the minister discretion to allow wānanga to use the term "university."
"We don't believe that the minister should have the power to call something that isn't a university a university or isn't a wānanga a wānanga, so our concern is with clarity to students and parents and employers," said Prof McCutcheon.
In statement by Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Chair, Sir Hirini Moko Mead, said while they are disappointed by the stance by Universities NZ they remain committed to allowing ministers to make the right decision.