An expat from New Zealand has created controversy by suggesting that his home country is not up to scratch and is calling on expats to help create a new showcase university in Auckland as part of a drive to make it more innovative.

In a new book, The Pine Tree Paradox: Why creating the New Zealand we all dream of requires a great university, he argues that a new world-class private university should be built on the waterfront in Auckland.

He says that is should not just be a stunning building, but a masterful one to rival great architectural statements such as the Bilbao Guggenheim.

Michael Parker, an equity analyst from Wellington who now works in Hong Kong for an American research firm, explains in the book that New Zealand needs to become a centre of innovation. A new waterfront development would be a good starting points but he says the New Zealand mind set needs to change. ‘What we're really talking about is national expectation,’ he said.

Despite the country's excellence in agriculture, New Zealand had no prospect of improving its relative prosperity, he argued, because ‘no matter how well we grow pine trees, or anything else, we won't earn a meaningful premium from produce’.

Although New Zealand could develop economic activity in the traditional areas of natural resources, manufacturing, agriculture and services such as tourism, the best option for long-term advantage was innovation.

In addition, while Auckland had many of the attributes helping San Francisco and Seattle become centers of innovation and wealth creation, the thing it lacked most was a world-class university, said Parker.

Given the current structure of university education, it would have to be a private sector initiative. ‘We are kidding ourselves if we think we will become champions of innovation without a world-class university. We currently don't have one. The basis of innovative companies is a well-educated and ambitious workforce. We need to excel at that,’ he explained.

Planners and businessmen have backed his call and they are suggesting that expats could help contribute to the debate, as they are the kind of people who are innovative.

However, others disagree. According to Sandra Grey, president of the Tertiary Education Union at the University of Wellington, pouring millions of dollars into a flashy building on the waterfront of Auckland will not increase the quality of education research, innovation and learning in New Zealand.

‘It is time we invested properly in the eight universities in New Zealand and the dozens of polytechnics we already have because these already contain world class academics and students who make their mark both here in New Zealand and overseas,’ she said.