University vs Polytechnics vs Vocational Courses | Which One For International Students and Immigrants?


New Zealand is an attractive destination for many international students and immigrants, thanks to its high-quality education system, diverse job market, and the great quality of life the country provides. If you are an immigrant or international student interested in pursuing studies in New Zealand to improve your job prospects and find a job, you will have various study options to choose from. In this article, we will explore the three types of study options available in New Zealand: universities, polytechnics, and vocational courses.


New Zealand only has 8 universities, but they each play a significant role in the country’s research and education environment. Much like universities around the world, universities in New Zealand are steeped with tradition, have large numbers of students (the University of Auckland had 36,748 students in 2021)

Universities in New Zealand offers a wide range of courses, from science and engineering to arts and humanities. The education system is renowned for its research-driven approach and innovative teaching techniques. If you are looking to study at a university in New Zealand, you will need to meet the entry requirements for the institution of your choice, which will vary depending on the course and institution.

Pros of Universities

  • These institutes are the most prestigious, meaning that they are the most widely recognised in New Zealand
  • If you want to get into academia or research, going a post-graduate degree at a New Zealand tertiary institute is a great place to start
  • Diverse range of what you can study

Cons of Universities

  • Incredibly costly - you’ll need to pay between $19,000 to $29,000 per year for a Master’s degree, or $20,000 to $25,000 for an undergraduate degree
  • Limited flexibility for work. If you’re studying fulltime, you won’t have time to work on the side to make money to support yourself
  • A tertiary course can take several years to complete, making them unsuitable if you are looking to quickly enter the job market
  • You’re not learning vocational skills which you can directly apply to a job. This may make finding a job difficult if you did not specialise during your studies


Polytechnics in New Zealand are known for their practical approach to learning. They offer courses in various fields, including engineering, hospitality, and business. Polytechnics aim to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in the workplace. Most polytechnics in New Zealand also offer apprenticeship programs, where students can gain work experience while studying.

Polytechnic courses are typically shorter in duration than those offered by universities, and students are often able to enter the workforce sooner. Unlike universities, which offer can offer degrees such as a Bachelors or Masters, polytechnics offer diplomas. This is something to consider if you are deciding between going to a university or polytechnic

Pros of Polytechnics

  • Lower cost and barrier to entry compared to universities
  • Smaller class sizes, meaning you’ll get more guidance and support
  • Focus on practical work, meaning that you may be more equipped for the workforce

Cons of Polytechnics

  • Not seen to be as prestigious as university degrees
  • Fewer opportunities for research and learning theory
  • Limited course offerings, meaning that you may need to live in a city or town much smaller than you would like to take a specific course

Vocational Courses

Vocational courses are designed to provide students with the specific skills and knowledge necessary for a particular job. These courses are typically shorter in duration than those offered at tertiary institutions or polytechnics. Vocational courses in New Zealand cover a broad range of fields, including hospitality, construction, and health care. Many vocational courses are also offered online, which makes them a popular choice for international students who may not be able to attend classes in person.

Vocational courses are growing in popularity in New Zealand, since they offer direct skills to people who can immediately find a job in the workforce. The two reasons why vocational skills are seeing a growth in demand are because:

  • Local and international students who complete a university degree struggle to find a job they are happy with since they do not have specific vocational skills
  • International students and immigrants, who need to land a job quickly, will take a vocational course and have a specific vocational skillset when entering the workforce

Pros of Vocational Courses

  • Cheapest and shortest time required - our Salesforce Admin course is 6 months, part time, and costs $1,200 USD, while Dev Academy’s programming courses are only 17 weeks long
  • You’re learning a direct vocational skill that you can take into the workforce
  • Emphasis on finding a job - companies that offer vocational courses will work with you to help you find a job at the end of the course

Cons of Vocational Courses

  • Since you’re learning a specific skill, you need to spend some time researching what you want to learn
  • Harder to find - you'll have to Google for them, ask around, and look out on social media (LinkedIn etc.) to find them


When choosing a study option in New Zealand, it's essential to consider your career goals, budget, and personal circumstances. While tertiary education may offer the most significant opportunities for career advancement, it may also be the most expensive. Polytechnics and vocational courses may provide more practical skills but may not offer the same level of academic prestige.