The country's largest university is considering restricting entry to all undergraduate courses from 2009 in a move some say risks a return to elitism and will shut the door to potential future leaders.
The University of Auckland proposal, an about-face from the earlier push to boost student numbers, is partly driven by an overhaul of the tertiary education sector.
The Tertiary Education Commission would not comment on whether other institutions were expected to follow suit.
Academics expressed "equity" concerns that raising hurdles to entry could put off students from groups under-represented in the student population, including scholars from Maori and Pacific Island backgrounds.
Student representatives said few of their peers knew of the plan and it was being pushed through too quickly at a time when many had finished for the year.
The scheme - which would restrict places in the current open entry courses in arts, education, science, theology and first year law - is to be considered by the senate of the institution on Monday.
If approved, it will go to the university council on December 10.
Papers obtained by the Herald show the university wants to meet an "ambitious" rise in postgraduate student numbers while reducing its proportion of undergraduate full-time equivalent students from the current 82 per cent to 78 per cent by 2012.
In addition, the shake-up of the tertiary education sector means the university will face an expected $2 million shortfall from the Government in meeting the cost of projected student numbers next year.
The tertiary reforms mean providers will be funded through complex investment plans rather than the number of students. It is a policy change nationally from a largely unconstrained funding system to a scheme that aligns courses with social and economic goals.
The university's deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Professor Raewyn Dalziel said no final decisions had been made on the proposal and consultation was continuing.
She said the sector was in a period of change but the intention to slow growth had been signalled well in advance during the development of the university's strategic plan, approved in 2005.
Professor Dalziel rejected the suggestion the proposal could risk a slide to elitism.
She said special entry schemes currently ran in courses with restricted entry and it was envisaged similar arrangements would be used.
"We have very clear statements about equity groups and the ability of students with potential to come into the university."
She said the proposal was like a safety precaution as the university could face serious financial strife under the new Government funding model if student numbers unexpectedly rose.
Auckland University Students' Association education vice-president David Do said limited entry shut the door on potential students and achievers of the future.
* All University of Auckland undergraduate courses could be restricted from 2009.
* The university says sector reforms are part of the reason.