From Academic Kids

The term polytechnic, from the Greek πολύ polú meaning "many" and τεχνικός tekhnikós meaning "arts", is commonly used in many countries to describe an institution that delivers vocational or technical education and training, other countries do not use the term and use alternative terminology. Polytechnics, in name, have existed since at least the 18th century but became increasingly popular since the post-WWII expansion in technical education. In some cases, polytechnics are engineering schools or tehnical colleges, or universities.


Polytechnics of the British tradition


See article on Technical and Further Education

Hong Kong

The first polytechnic in Hong Kong is The Hong Kong Polytechnic, established in 1972 through upgrading the Hong Kong Technical College (Government Trade School before 1947). A second polytechnic, the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong, was founded in 1984. These polytechnics awards diplomas, higher diplomas, as well as academic degrees. Like the United Kingdom, the two polytechnics were granted university status in 1994 and 1995 respectively, and renamed The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the City University of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, a university with a focus in applied science, engineering and business, was founded in 1991.

See also: Education in Hong Kong, List of universities in Hong Kong.

New Zealand

New Zealand polytechnics are established under the Education Act 1989 as amended, and are considered state-owned tertiary institutions along with universities, colleges of education, and wānanga; there is today often much crossover in courses and qualifications offered between all these types of institutions. Some have officially taken the title 'institute of technology', while one has opted for 'University College of Learning' (UCOL), and another 'Unitec New Zealand' instead. Many if not all now issue at least bachelor-level degrees.

Since the 1990s, there has been consolidation in New Zealand's state-owned tertiary education system. In the polytechnic sector: Wellington Polytechnic amalgamated with Massey University. The Central Institute of Technology explored a merger with the Waikato Institute of Technology, which was abandoned, but later, after financial concerns, controversially amalgamated with Hutt Valley Polytechnic, which in turn became Wellington Institute of Technology. Some smaller polytechnics in the North Island, such as Waiarapa Polytechnic, amalgamated with UCOL. (The only other amalgamations have been in the colleges of education.)

Only one university has successfully been elevated to university status: the Auckland Institute of Technology, while Unitec has had repeated attempts blocked.

See also: List of polytechnics and institutes of technology in New Zealand and Education in New Zealand


Singapore retains a system very similar to the British system distinguishing strictly between polytechnics and universities. Under this system, all Singaporean students sit for their 'O'-levels after four years of secondary school. They then apply for a place at either a polytechnic or a Junior College. Polytechnics offer three year diploma courses in subjects such as information technology, engineering subjects and other vocational fields. Junior Colleges, on the other hand, offer two year courses in more traditional subjects such as English, History, the pure sciences and others after which students take their 'A'-levels, a university entrance examination.

See also: Education in Singapore

United Kingdom

Polytechnics were tertiary education teaching institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until the Further and Higher Education Act, 1992 allowed them to become universities, the comparable institutions in Scotland were collectively referred to as Central Institutions.

Academic degrees in polytechnics were validated by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) from 1965 to 1992. After this time, the new universities awarded their own degrees, with the Open University offering degrees outside the university system. Sub-degree courses at these institutions were validated by the Business & Technology Education Council (BTEC), and many of them contiue to offer BTEC qualifications.

Many polytechnics were formed in the expansion of higher education in the 1960s, others can trace their history back much further than this. One of the most famous polytechnics was the London Polytechnic, which was originally founded in the 19th century. Ulster Polytechnic remains the only polytechnic to unite with a university, a trans-binary merger; this occurred in 1984.

Historically, British polytechnics were seen as ranking below universities in the provision of higher education, due to their lack of degree-awarding powers and the fact that they concentrated on vocational rather than academic courses. Even since 1992 differences still remain between the former polytechnics (and other post-1992 universities) and the older universities in terms of pay, conditions for staff, public perception and research budgets.

Although many of the former polytechnics remain at the bottom of the University League Tables, some former polytechnics have steadily moved up, and can now be found in the top half of the tables of all universities.

See also: British universities


Polytechnic type institutions survive in many other countries, there is often not the same distinction between polytechnics and universities that was seen in Britain, some are often seen as being quite similar in terms of standards.

Écoles Polytechnique

In French a Polytechnic is an École Polytechnique.

Institute of Technology

The term institute of technology is used in many countries rather than polytechnic, and indeed in these countries the latter term may never have been common. For example in Canada the British Columbia Institute of Technology is one such institution, and École de technologie supérieure. Indian Institutes of Technology is used in India to denote a number of specific institutes which were based on a post WWII recommendation for industrialisation. In Ireland the term Institute of Technology is more favored now to the term Regional Technical College though the latter is the legally correct term; Dublin Institute of Technology is a institute which is a university in all but name as it can confer degrees in accordance with law. The Federal Institute of Technology is located in Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland. Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA is possibly one of the oldest institutions to use "institute of technology" in its title and is a university.


An Ammattikorkeakoulu is the common term in Finland, as is the alternative "Yrkeshögskola" - their focus is on bachelor degree level studies particularily in technology. Fachhochschule is the common term in a number of countries with German influences, these are Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland - the term is often translated as "University of Applied Sciences" to refect their role. Hogeschool is used in Belgium and in the Netherlands. Technical and Further Education is the term used in Australia and these institutions have a more vocational emphasis that traditional university courses.

Their are also many universities that use the term polytechnic for historic reasons:

fr:École polytechnique


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