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The University of Otago spent $68.369 million on travel in the four and a-half years to June - the equivalent of almost 30,000 round trips from Auckland to London.
It was the country's second-largest university travel bill - the figures include air fares, accommodation and other costs related to travel - after the University of Auckland, which has spent $109.187 million since the start of 2008.
The spending of all eight New Zealand universities during the period, provided to Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act, was $329.069 million.
Otago Polytechnic spent $1.025 million during the same period.
University of Otago chief operating officer John Patrick said running an "internationally renowned university" so far from the majority of the world's population, and having more than 21,000 students and more than 3700 full-time equivalent staff, meant spending on travel could not be avoided.
"The University of Otago's vision is to be a research-led university with an international reputation for excellence. This vision requires a nationwide presence and international collaborations and partnerships in many countries of the world."
The travel spending needed to be seen in context of the university's total expenditure of $2.4 billion during the four-and-a-half-year period, Mr Patrick said.
"This meant its spending on travel took up 2.8% of total expenditure."
Asked why the spending was significantly more than Massey University ($53.514 million), which has roughly the same number of students, Mr Patrick said: "Maybe part of the reason is that they are a different type of university to Otago".
"For example, they have a large number of distance-taught students, they do not have medical schools in Wellington and Christchurch and their university is less research-intensive than Otago, and therefore they may have less staff travelling for research purposes," he said.
Auckland University executive officer Grant Wills said its expenditure on travel was "small and decreasing" and was less than 3% of total operating expenditure.
Mr Wills pointed out that universities had a statutory role under the Education Act to "meet international standards of research and teaching".
Otago Polytechnic communications director Mike Waddell said a good proportion of its travel was for international student recruitment, which generated significant revenue.
"As part of our internationalisation strategy, we have also made contributions to the travel costs of students undertaking educational exchanges overseas, most notably to Dunedin's sister city, Shanghai, in China," he said.
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said universities were "autonomous and responsible for managing their own affairs, including operational costs".
"However, I would expect universities to be like all other businesses in the current climate and to be looking closely at their expenditure and how they are managing costs," he said.
The figures in the graphic have been rounded.