“Polytechnic” is the standard term used to talk about the tertiary education sector that comprises the polytechnics and institutes of technology in New Zealand.

Polytechnics differ in a lot of ways from a University. Polytechnics offer both academic and job-focused courses that range from pre-certificate training through to diploma and degree levels. Many polytechnic courses are job-specific and some workplaces require completion of a polytechnic course before you can advance in a job.

This differs in the biggest way to a University course in that university courses have an academic focus. Universities offer degrees, diplomas, certificates and postgraduate programmes of study. The most common university programme is the degree.

The training and qualification a student receives when he or she chooses to study at a polytechnic is basically a much more practically based training/qualification. There is a greater practical component to the student and the student comes away with skills he or she can put to use immediately in the workplace.

Polytechs are for anyone

The fact that Polytechs are so flexible in their provision of tertiary education they cater for the needs of just about everyone. They fit the bill for –

  • for New Zealand students and students all over the world
  • for school-leavers and adults
  • for people who want to begin a career, grow their career or change their career
  • full-time or part-time study
  • on-campus and off-campus study
  • studying a wide range of qualification levels: degrees, diplomas, certificates, foundation courses
  • studying a wide range of subjects specialising in applied, technical

So what are some of the most distinctive features of studying at a Polytech or IT?

Student Focus

The emphasis at these tertiary providers is on student-focussed teaching rather that research as at a University. Most of the classes are small and much of the learning is practical based. They tend to support students on a grander scale and often encourage students to build from one qualification to another; to move from lower qualifications to higher ones.

Study options at grass roots level

Polytechs/IT’s operate at a much more grass roots level. This means they are often very responsive to the needs of the community they form a part of. As a result there is a tendency to develop programmes of study that meet the needs of local industries and businesses and any special needs the community may have.

It is for this reason also that they offer study programmes at all levels – community interest courses, foundation programmes, certificates, diplomas, degrees and some post-graduate diplomas. Most commonly they offer certificates and diplomas.

Polytechnics/Institutes of Technology can be more accessible.

Cost can be a huge factor in where a student chooses to study beyond school. There are eight universities in New Zealand. Not many, and having to move to a university town can have implications/limitations for students.

Polytechnics/Institutes of Technology by comparison are more accessible. Every town with a population over 20,000 has at least on polytechnic/institute of technology campus. Being able to stay in home town can save students money for the reason they can then chose to stay at home, retain jobs they may have and eliminates travel costs at the end of each term/semester.

Another factor in making a polytechnic/institute of technology a more accessible study option is the fact that the government subsidises tuition fees/cost by around about 2/3rds. Students still pay fees but they are considerably less than studying at a University.


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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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