Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce is being accused of interfering with academic freedom by threatening to force Auckland University to take on more science and engineering students.
The university says it will have to cut arts funding by a huge amount if it has to increase funding for science and engineering courses.
The Green Party's tertiary education spokesman, David Clendon, says universities have a clear understanding of the country's economic and social needs and work hard to develop a balanced and strategic approach.
"Mr Joyce's threat that he can step in to decide how many students Auckland University should enrol in each department is a direct assault on academic freedom and the independence of universities," he said today.
"Universities must remain independent of political interference if they are to fulfil their role as critic and conscience of society."
This year's budget put $42 million extra funding into engineering at tertiary education institutes and $17m into science courses while freezing its funding for other subjects.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says New Zealand is under-represented in its graduates in engineering by international standards, with just 4.3 percent of students studying for bachelor's degrees in engineering.
But Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon says the relative cost of the courses needs to be considered.
"The other thing to remember is that the programmes people want to increase are generally the most expensive programmes, so to have more engineering students you may have to reduce the number of arts students by twice as many," he told the New Zealand Herald.
He said the extra funding was paid as a bulk fund and the university didn't have to put it all into engineering and science.
However, Mr Joyce says he's prepared to force the university's hand.
"I'm watching them really closely to make sure they do respond to what the market wants, and if they don't, I can go and tell them how many they should enrol for each department."