What’s the difference between universities and polytechnics?

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Universities and polytechnics both help you expand your skillset and knowledge. They can help you enter an industry, pursue a particular profession, or learn more about a topic you’re interested in. But what’s the big difference? Check out what makes a polytechnic different from a university, and the major myths about studying at a polytechnic.

Types of programmes

Polytechs aren’t just for tradies! In the past, polytechnics were known for offering certificates and diplomas in specialist areas like construction or beauty, but these days their offerings are far more diverse. Universities and polytechnics have much more overlap. They offer all levels of programmes, from undergraduate to postgraduate, in a range of different subjects that stretch into the arts, business, science, health and more.

There are still some subjects that you probably won’t find at a university yet, like makeup artistry, bakery, tiling, or hairdressing. On the flip side, you probably won’t find subjects like law or classics at a polytechnic.

Learn practical skills

There is a huge focus on teaching practical and work-ready skills at polytechnics. Programmes are often developed alongside industry, to ensure students graduate with in-demand skills. Universities tend to be more theoretical.

Connect with industry

Industry speakers, work experience, placements, and well-connected tutors all help bridge the gap between study and the world of work. There’s a real push to help students land their first job after graduation, and the industry connections made during study can help them as they navigate their future in the industry.

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Smaller class sizes  

At university, classes tend to be bigger, especially at lectures where in some subjects, lecture theatres can be filled with over 800 students. There are smaller-sized classes like tutorials that allow students to ask questions, but in general, polytechnics keep class sizes smaller.  

In smaller classes, there’s a higher chance students will get the support they need to learn effectively. It’s also easier to build relationships with fellow students and tutors, making the classroom a welcoming environment. 

All around support 

At university, academic support is available whenever you need it. However, polytechnics often pride themselves on the all-around support given to students, with many even providing on-site childcare options for parents. Health and wellbeing, learning, disability, and career support is often made readily available.  

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Study your way 

Providing flexible study options for people who are working full-time, parenting, or studying remotely is important to polytechnics. With online and part-time options available, you can fit in study around your life.  

Closer to you 

In New Zealand, all 25 polytechnics, institutes of technology, and industry training organisations have merged to become Te Pūkenga. This allows resources and knowledge to be shared, giving learners more flexibility in how, what and where they study. In comparison, there are only 8 universities. 

Don’t just take it from us, hear from real graduates about what studying with a polytechnic is like. Check out Jess’s, Gareth’s, or Joseph’s story. Or, head to the success stories tab on our Find your Future page.  

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