What's the Difference Between Tech and University?

Isn’t university more prestigious? Don’t their graduates get paid more? The answer is yes. And no.

First Up, Some Basic Facts: 

  • polytechnics offer certificates, diplomas, degrees and, in some instances, post-graduate study. There are 16 polytechnics and institutes of technology in New Zealand and 3 wānanga
  • universities offer degrees and post-graduate study. There are eight universities in New Zealand

Isn't Tech Only for Tradies?

It started out that way, but these days modern techs cater to a wide range of professions - the arts, engineering, marine studies, and business. They offer degree and post-graduate level study too, as well as pathway courses that lead on to higher level study at other institutions like universities.

But before you write off becoming a tradie, first consider how highly sought after qualified trades people are in the market place. In fact, the New Zealand Herald found that:

[When] Auckland consultancy firm Scarlatti tracked the average yearly income, through Inland Revenue tax records, of a group of 19 year olds right up until they turned 32 they found by the age of 30, a mechanical engineer would have earned $185,000 more than an accountant, a plumber earnt $21,000 more than a medical graduate and a flooring installer earnt $116,000 more than a lawyer.

Learning by Doing

One of the main differences between techs and universities is the amount of practical vs theory. Because techs used to be trades-focused, they have a strong background on how to bring “learning by doing” into the classroom.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn the theory as well – it just means you get the best of both worlds. This means that when you go to apply for jobs you’ve got hands-on, practical knowledge of what the job involves and some experience at doing it.

Industry Placement = Experience and Connections

Industry placements are a big part of tech courses. They give you real world experience while studying, and help you build valuable networks that enhance your chances of employment.

Tutor to Student Ratio

Techs tend to have smaller class sizes than universities and more tutors per student.

It all depends on your personality as to what will suit you best. If you like the idea of a big lecture theatre with potentially hundreds of students then university might be your thing. If you prefer the idea of smaller class sizes and more tutor contact then a tech will suit you better.

Working While you Study

For most students, study comes first but they still have to work one, two, or even three jobs to get by. These are traditionally low paid jobs in areas like fast-food or retail. It's a fact that a lot of students leave study with large student loans, despite working.

Techs offer a range of flexible learning options including online study. This means some students are able to work full-time while up-skilling, particularly those wanting to enhance their management skills and knowledge. Additionally, in some areas (such as automotive, electrical or carpentry) students are employed as apprentices and can earn while they learn. 

In short, do your homework before committing to any kind of study. Check out the career outcomes, consider your learning style and never be afraid to ask questions. Ask people already in the profession how they got there and take a tour somewhere you want to study. Call an employer and ask what sort of qualifications they like to see – you might find they are more interested in seeing you can commit to becoming qualified.


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