Auckland University is in danger of slipping from a "storehouse of knowledge to a foreign warehouse" because it is increasingly catering for international students from Asia at the potential expense of New Zealanders, says Labour MP Shane Jones.
Mr Jones said the focus on increasing fee-paying students from China, India and other Asian counties was turning universities "into institutions designed to educate international populations rather than ourselves".
Mr Jones, a graduate of Harvard in the US, initially made the comments at a political debate at Auckland University on Thursday night. One of those at the debate contacted the Weekend Herald to say there were calls of "racist" after his comments.
Mr Jones said he had not heard the "racist" comment but somebody told him that it was called out.
"If someone did say that, that would bother me not one iota. I believe a university should be a storehouse of knowledge, not a foreign warehouse. Universities have to serve Kiwis first."
He said he was not being racist and international students were important, but a debate was needed about the purpose of a university in New Zealand. There was a risk that fewer places would be available for New Zealanders because of the need to cater for international students.
"They (universities) tell us they don't have enough dough so, disproportionately, they are racing into the crescent from India through to China and bringing in more and more international students. I don't want to have a situation where there is no room for Kiwis at the intellectual inn."
The Auckland University website shows international students make up about 13 per cent of its student population.
Almost a third (1,576) are from China, with significant numbers also from Malaysia (591), the United States (529) and Korea (456).
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said of Mr Jones' remark: "It's a very strange comment to make if you're an economic development spokesperson and you're supposed to be about creating jobs."
Mr Joyce said the international education sector was worth $2.5 billion to the economy and contributed 28,000 jobs.
Auckland University 2008-2012:
• International students: Up 24 per cent, from 4,283 to 5,301.
• Domestic students: Up 3.5 per cent, from 34,268 to 35,483.
• Total students: Up 6 per cent, from 38,551 to 40,784.