Lincoln University is in a delicate state and needs significant course cuts, more Māori and Pasifika students, and more donations, an advisory board says.
The report by the university's transformation advisory board also recommends the university "move away from being a stand-alone university" and focus on its role as part of the Lincoln Hub partnership with several Crown research institutes.
It said the university should out-source administration and contract other institutions to provide courses that were not central to Lincoln's focus on land-based sciences.
The university has been seeking a viable business model after years of struggling with low enrolments and financial deficits.
Last year, an independent report said the university had not generated an operating surplus since 2007 and its best option for the future was to "integrate" with another university.
The transformation board report did not recommend a merger but said the university should remain open to future partnerships of all types, including integration.
It said its recommendations had the potential to transform the university, which "should aspire to become a globally-ranked, top five agri-focused university and top five New Zealand university".
The university should redefine its course offerings, build its research and "reset" its governance and management capability, the report said.
The university had improved significantly, but there was still more to do.
"There remain a number of hurdles for the university to overcome, however, before it gets to the point where the board would consider that it can be a successful university long-term, domestically and internationally.
"These include overcoming its small scale, substantially growing student numbers, developing a viable long-term strategy, and strengthening current weak relationships with key stakeholders and other organisations."
Transformation board chair Sir Maarten Wevers said Lincoln had an important role to play in New Zealand's land-based economy.
"The responsibility now lies with Lincoln University and its leadership to accelerate and expand its change programmes in order to realise the opportunities in front of it."