University staff and students are outraged the Government is slashing the size of university and wananga councils and abolishing their right to seats on the governing bodies.
They say it is a power grab that will give government appointees more influence over New Zealand's eight universities and three wananga.
The Government consulted on the plan in 2013 and on Tuesday announced its decision to cut the maximum size of the councils from 20 members to 12.
Three or four appointed by the Tertiary Education Minister and staff and student representation left to the discretion of individual institutions. There was a new requirement that Maori would be included on councils.
The changes would be made within two years. Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said they would make university and wananga councils more flexible and efficient.
The Union of Students Associations and the Tertiary Education Union say it is a bad move.
Tertiary Education Union spokesperson Stephen Day said it would reduce the independence of universities and give Mr Joyce too much influence.
"It seems like it is a power grab. So that's our concern in the long term, that the country is going to lose out on an important, democratic voice that protects it from being dominated by the minister and the government of the day," Mr Day said.
The University of Auckland said increasing the Government's influence over universities would harm their international reputation.