Teritary education can be undertaken from several different kinds of institutes, namely universities and polytechnics.
Universities in New Zealand offer courses which are normally theoretically based programmes. This means the base of your study will be listening, learning and researching. Many degrees, such as medical degrees have significant practical or "working" aspects to them, however more general degrees such as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Commerce are almost wholly book-based.
Study at a NZ polytech on the other hand, often offers courses which stress employment-related, practical skills. This means the course involves undertaking the same work tasks as those performed in the real world, not just learning about them. From degrees in Exercise and Sports Science to Hairdressing, polytechnic courses have a much larger slant towards practical application of skill than many university degrees.
The University Option:
University study in New Zealand is strongly grounded in research and academia, giving students an expansive background in self-directed investigative learning.
Most undergraduate degrees at university are not specific to one particular career, making university a good option for those who are not entirely sure of the path they want to go down. In first year students have the ability to explore several different subject avenues in order to find out where their interests lie. Throughout further years students need to specify their study to a particular department, but still have the luxury of taking additional unrelated papers on the side to complete their study requirements.
While there are many degrees which will teach students the specific skills they need to perform a particular job, such as a Bachelor of Dental Surgery, most undergraduate courses at university require postgraduate study to gain the employment-related nous needed to perform in a profession without actual working experience. This is the case for university degrees such as sciences and arts or social sciences.
Upon graduating with a university degree students will have an extremely sound knowledge of a particular field of work, and with some practical work experience (such as internships), will be able to slot into the working world in a junior professional position. University graduates will however, will often still spend the first year or longer of their working career learning many job-specific skills that their degree did not cover.
The Polytechnic Option:
Many prospective students think that polytechnic education only caters for mechanics and the hospitality industry. While that may have once been the case, polytechnic study is increasingly offering more and more courses similar to those offered at universities, but with a more practical element to them. From media to business, landscape design to interior design, software engineering to journalism, the education programmes offered by polytechnics generally offer a more applied form of education.
Socially, university education is still considered to be a higher level of education than polytechnic education. This stigma is increasingly been proven a myth, with practical skills, or a combination of practical and academic skills, far overriding pure academic skills in the workforce.
Polytechnics often have a more direct relationship with industry, and are more actively involved in placing students with work experience and in actual jobs than universities. For university students, post-study experience and employment largely rests on the motivation to succeed by the individual student.
Which to Choose?
By completing an undergraduate degree at university you can show employers that you have a good mind and you know how to learn, as it develops good communication skills and enables you to think critically. Conversely, a qualification from a polytechnic offers specific skills and knowledge which can be directly applied to the workforce.
Unless you intend to become a medical doctor, lawyer or academic, in which case university is the only option, it is best to choose your tertiary education based on what the specific course or degree you are interested in offers - and where the skills that degree teaches you will lead you.
Looking for more information about universities or polytechnics in New Zealand? Check out the NZS.com directory.