AskDefine | Define polytechnic

Dictionary Definition

polytechnic n : a technical school offering instruction in many industrial arts and applied sciences [syn: polytechnic institute, engineering school]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. that teaches applied arts and sciences rather than academic subjects


  1. An educational institute that teaches applied arts and sciences rather than academic subjects


Extensive Definition

Institute of technology, and polytechnic, are designations employed in a wide range of learning institutions awarding different types of degrees and operating often at variable levels of the educational system. It may be any institution of higher education or vocational education, specialising in technology or different sorts of technical subjects. It may also refer to a secondary education school focused in vocational training. The term polytechnic comes from the Greek πολύ (polú or polý) meaning "many" and τεχνικός (tekhnikós) meaning "arts". While the term institute of technology is often abbreviated IT, the term is not to be confused with information technology.
The term institute of technology is used in many countries where polytechnic is uncommon. In other countries the opposite is true.

Institutes of technology versus polytechnics

The institutes of technology and polytechnics have been existing at least since the 18th century, but became popular after World War II with the expansion of technical education, associated with the new needs created by industrialization. An exception is the Ecole Polytechnique, the oldest one in the world, which educates French élites since its foundation in 1794. In some cases, polytechnics or institutes of technology are engineering schools or technical colleges.
Sometimes, also institutes of technology are considered universities when they meet conditions necessary to be formally considered a university: autonomy to offer masters and doctoral degrees and independence as research institutions. US famous examples include Caltech, MIT, and Georgia Tech. In India, Indian Institutes of Technology are specific elite institutes which were based on a post WWII recommendation for industrialisation. Those are highly regarded full chartered universities with a long history.
In several countries, like Germany and Switzerland, polytechnics are institutions of higher education, and have been accredited for centuries to award academic degrees and doctorates. Famous examples are the RWTH Aachen and ETH Zurich, both considered universities.
In countries like Iran, Finland, Malaysia, Portugal, Singapore or the United Kingdom, there is often a significant distinction between polytechnics and universities. In Ireland the term institute of technology is more favored synonym of a regional technical college though the latter is the legally correct term; however, Dublin Institute of Technology is a university in all but name as it can confer degrees in accordance with law.
In a number of countries, although being today generally considered similar institutions of higher learning across many countries, polytechnics and institutes of technology used to have a quite different statute among each other, its teaching competences and organizational history. In many cases polytechnic were a former designation for a vocational institution, before it has been granted the exclusive right to award academic degrees and can be truly called an institute of technology. A number of polytechnics providing higher education is simply a result of a formal upgrading from their original and historical role as intermediate technical education schools. In some situations, former polytechnics or other non-university institutions have emerged solely through an administrative change of statutes, which often included a name change with the introduction of new designations like institute of technology, polytechnic university, university of applied sciences, or university of technology for marketing purposes. Such emergence of so many upgraded polytechnics, former vocational education and technical schools converted into more university-like institutions has caused concern where the lack of specialized intermediate technical professionals lead to industrial skill shortages in some fields, being also associated to an increase of the graduate unemployment rate. This is mostly the case in those countries, where the education system is not controlled by the state and everybody can grant degrees. Evidence have also shown a decline in the general quality of teaching and graduate's preparation for the workplace, due to the fast-paced conversion of that technical institutions to more advanced higher level institutions.



During the 1970s to early 1990s, the term was used to describe state owned and funded technical schools that offered both vocational and higher education. They were part of the College of Advanced Education system. In the 1990s most of these merged with existing universities, or formed new ones of their own. These new universities often took the title University of Technology, for marketing rather than legal purposes. AVCC report The most prominent such university in each state founded the Australian Technology Network a few years later.


Since the mid 1990s, the term has been applied to some technically minded Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes. These primarily offer vocational education, although some are beginning to offer higher education. This usage of the term is most prevalent in NSW and the ACT. The new terminology is apt given that this category of institution are becoming very much like the institutes of the 1970s-1990s period.

Belgium and the Netherlands

Hogeschool is used in Belgium and Hogere Technische School (HTS) in the Netherlands. The Hogeschool has many similarities to the Fachhochschule in the German language areas and to the Ammattikorkeakoulu in Finland.
Hogeschool institutions in the Flemish Community of Belgium (such as the Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel) are currently undergoing a process of academization. They form associations with a university and integrate research into the curriculum, which will allow them to deliver academic master's degrees.
In the Netherlands, four former institutes of technology have become universities over the past decades. These are the current three Technical Universities (at Delft, Eindhoven and Enschede), plus the former agricultural institute in Wageningen. A list of all hogescholen in the Netherlands, including some which might be called polytechnics, can be found here.

Finland - Ammattikorkeakoulu - Yrkeshögskola

An Ammattikorkeakoulu is the common term in Finland, as is the Swedish alternative "Yrkeshögskola" – their focus is on studies leading to bachelor degree, particularly in technology. After January 1st 2006 some Finnish institutes of technology switched the English term polytechnic to the term University of Applied Sciences in their official names. The Ammattikorkeakoulu has many similarities to the Hogeschool in Belgium and in the Netherlands and to the Fachhochschule in the German language areas.

French language areas - Écoles Polytechniques/ Instituts technologiques

French language areas - Écoles Polytechniques

In the French areas like France, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland, a Polytechnic is an école polytechnique:
France has some polytechnic type higher education establishments which belong to a group of renowned and specialized institutions called Grandes écoles; they generally have full names starting with École supérieure (higher school) or École nationale (national school), often shortened or summarized into acronyms (for instance, the full name of the École des Mines is École nationale supérieure des Mines de Paris or ENSMP). These schools are the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country. This may lead to some confusion in English-speaking countries, where the term "polytechnic" often carries a more average connotations.
In particular, the École Polytechnique is popularly seen as the most prestigious scientific and technical school in the country, giving rise to popular expressions such as Pas besoin d'avoir fait Polytechnique pour comprendre ça ("No need to have been to Polytechnique to understand this", to be said of something which should be readily understood).

French language areas - Instituts technologiques

In the French speaking part of Switzerland exists also the term Haute Ecole Specialisee for a type of institution called Fachhochschule in the German speaking part of the country. (see below)
France has many kind of Institute of technology, some of them are a part of Universities, they are called Institut Universitaire de technologie.
Most of French Institutes of technology are not polytechniques but specialized :

German language areas - Fachhochschule and Technische Hochschule

Fachhochschule and Technische Hochschule are the common terms in a number of countries with German influences, these are Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland - the term Fachhochschule is now officially translated as "University of Applied Sciences" to respect their role. Polytechnic type institutions are widespread in this part of Europe. For example, Germany has 159 Fachhochschule-institutions.
There used to be a differentiation between a Fachhochschule and Technische Hochschule (or Technische Universität) and the Diplom degree of the Fachhochschule is considered below a university degree. However, through the Bologna process, the Bachelor's, Master's degrees have been made equivalent. The Technische Hochschule focuses more on research and can grant doctoral degrees.
The Fachhochschule, in contrast, has many similarities to the Hogeschool in Belgium and in the Netherlands and to the Ammattikorkeakoulu in Finland and can grant Bachelor's, Diplom (FH) and Master's degrees. But the Fachhochschule offers university-like education in contrast to the Hogeschool which offers more vocational education. The Fachhochschule performs research in the field of applying science.


There are a fully-fledged Greek university named "Technical University" - the National Technical University of Athens.
On the other hand, there are Greek technological educational institutes (Ανώτατα Τεχνολογικά Εκπαιδευτικά Ιδρύματα - ΑTEI) which do not have full university status. After the 2001 Higher Education Reform Act (N.1416) Technological Educational Institutes constitute a complementary part of the public higher education in Greece. They confer 4-year bachelor's degrees, but in practice their graduates have still fewer rights than universities'. Among other differences they have, the technological educational institutes are allowed to run graduate programs only in collaboration with universities.

Hong Kong

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


Polytechnic is a technical institute which imparts technical education in India. Polytechnics are not affiliated to any university. They offer three year duration diploma courses in engineering. The courses offered in polytechnics can be said to be abridged version of degree courses offered in engineering colleges in India. The courses are designed in such a way that the students are able to perform basic engineering tasks. The diploma holders in engineering are generally employed as supervisors or junior engineers in the companies. The minimum qualification for admission to polytechnics is pass in SSLC (Standard Tenth). The polytechnics are affiliated to state technical boards. The All India Council of Technical Education is the regulating authority for polytechnics in India.
After successfully completing their diploma in polytechnic, students can gain lateral entry to engineering degree (under graduate) courses called BE which are conducted by engineering colleges affiliated to universities.
Polytechnic Equivalent Diploma These are diploma equivalent to diploma issued by polytechnics in India. These courses are conducted by institutions like IETE [], IME




The Republic of Ireland has an "Institute of Technology" system, formerly referred to as Regional Technical College (RTCs) system - the latter term is still the correct legal term for the colleges when used generically or collectively. These institutions have a similar number of students attending as at Irish universities, and offer subdegree and degree level studies. Some institutions have "delegated authority" that allows them to make awards in their own name, after authorisation by the Higher Education & Training Awards Council.
Dublin Institute of Technology developed separately from the Regional Technical College system, and after several decades of association with the University of Dublin, Trinity College it acquired the authority to confer its own degrees.


Italian language areas

Politecnico is the common term used in Italy:
In the Italian speaking part of Switzerland exists also the term Scuola Universitaria Professionnale for a type of institution called Fachhochschule in the German speaking part of the country. (see at "German language areas")



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 Tertiary Education Institutions. Some have officially taken the title 'institute of technology' which is a term recognised in government strategies equal to that of the term 'polytechnic'. One has opted for the name 'Universal College of Learning' (UCOL), and another 'Unitec New Zealand'. These are legal names but not recognised terms like 'polytechnic' or 'institute of technology'. Many if not all now grant 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.)
The Auckland University of Technology is the only polytechnic to have been elevated to university status; while Unitec has had repeated attempts blocked by government policy and consequent decisions; Unitec has not been able to convince the courts to overturn these decisions.


The Polytechnic institutes in Pakistan, offer a diploma spanning three years in different branches. Students are admitted to the diploma program based on their results in the 10th grade standardized exams. Main purpose of Polytechnic Institutes are to train technologists in various trades. These trades include Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Auto and Diesel Technology, Electronics, Chemical, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Textile, Instrumentation etc.
These institutes are located throughout Pakistan and are in service since early 1950s.


There are fifteen state-run polytechnical institutes (the polytechnics) in Portugal and also several other private polytechnic institutions. The designation "Institute of Technology" is not applied at all, being meaningless in Portugal. The polytechnical higher education system provides a more practical training and is profession-oriented, while the university higher education system has a strong theoretical basis and is highly research-oriented. Many major fields of study like medicine, law, the natural sciences, or veterinary, are taught only in university institutions, while other vocationally orientated degrees like nursing, accounting technician, health care technician, socio-cultural animation, administrative assistant, and preschool school teaching, are only offered by the polytechnic institutions. Currently, higher education in Portugal is organized into two subsystems: university and polytechnic, with both kind of institutions operating across the country, and since after 2006, with the approval of new legislation and the Bologna Process any polytechnic or university institution of Portugal, is legally able to provide a first cycle of study, known as licenciatura plus a second cycle which confers the master's degree. However, not all polytechnic institutions started immediately to offer the second cycle because some of these didn't comply with the necessary requirements (like budget, minimal proper research activities or doctorated teaching staff). Doctorate degrees (3rd cycle degrees) and extensive independent research work are still exclusive competences of the universities.
Polytechnic Schools (Escolas Politécnicas) were created in the 19th century in Lisbon (Escola Politécnica) and Porto (Academia Politécnica), and were merged into the newly created universities of Lisbon and Porto in 1911. Other than the name, they were not related at all with the current polytechnic subsystem which exists in Portugal since the 1970s, or to any current institution belonging to them. The current "Polytechnical Institutes" started to open after 1974. Some of them have its origins in the former vocational education "Institutes of Industry and Commerce" (Institutos Industriais e Comerciais) like the ones founded in Lisbon (Instituto Industrial e Comercial de Lisboa), Porto, and Coimbra. The polytechnical institutes (institutos politécnicos) of Portugal used to be higher education institutions with very different roles and competences of those encompassed and provided by the universities, because the polytechnics didn't award neither masters nor doctoral degrees, and unlike universities, they didn't develop independent research activities. However, since 2007, after many reforms, upgrades, and changes, including the Bologna process, the Portuguese polytechnical institutes started to be considered as de facto technical universities in a number of fields, with little formal difference between their 1st and 2nd cycle degrees and those awarded by the classic full chartered universities (polytechnics do not have competences to award 3rd cycle doctorate degrees and, in general, they don't develop independent research work). The polytechnical institutes are organized into confederations of autonomous polytechnic higher education units comprising a wide range of fields from engineering or technologies to education to accountancy to agriculture (called institutes and schools). Since the creation of the first polytechnical institutes that started in the late 1970s, to 1999 after new legislation has been approved for these institutions, the polytechnics were only allowed to offer a three year bachelor degree (bacharelato). In opposition, the Portuguese universities conferred 4 to 6 years major bachelor degrees, known in many countries as licentiate degree (licenciatura). The universities were also the only institutions awarding masters and doctoral degrees in Portugal to graduated people having the licenciatura diploma conferred exclusively in the universities. In general, the polytechnic system has been often regarded as a second choice alternative to the university for a large number of students. There is a historic connotation of the Portuguese polytechnical institutes as the schools of last resort, because of their general low selectiveness (which was clearly substandard from the 1980s to the mid-2000s), lack of historical notability, and diminute number of highly distinguished alumni and professors, which some feel hurts their reputation.


Singapore retains a system close to that applying in the United Kingdom from 1969-1992, distinguishing between polytechnics and universities, but also including a third component, the institute of technical education (ITE). Under this system, most Singaporean students sit for their 'O' Level examinations after a four or five years of education in secondary school, and apply for a place at either ITE, a polytechnic or a Pre-university centre (a junior college or the Millennia Institute, a centralised institute). A few secondary schools are now offering a six-year programme which leads directly to university entrance.
Polytechnics offer three year diploma courses in subjects such as information technology, engineering subjects and other vocational fields. There are a total of 5 polytechnics in Singapore. They are namely:
The institute of technical education offers shorter programmes up to 2 year certificates in a wide variety of fields, ranging from beauty therapy to nursing, electronics, business and information technology. There are currently three colleges within ITE. One of them is a recently opened large campus while the other two are each composed of five smaller campuses which will be replaced in the coming years by a large campus for each college. The three colleges are:


South Africa

South Africa is in a process of transforming its "higher education landscape". Historically a division in South Africa between Universities and Technikons (polytechnics) as well between institutions servicing particular racial and language groupings. In 1993 Technikons were afforded the power to award certain technology degrees. Beginning in 2004 former Technikons have either been merged with traditional Universities to form Comprehensive Universities or have become Universities of Technology, however the Universities of Technology have not to date acquired all of the traditional rights and privileges of a University (such as the ability to confer a wide range of degrees).
''See also: List of universities in South Africa


Most of Thailand's institutes of technology were developed from technical colleges, in the past could not grant bachelor's degrees; today, however, they are university level institutions, some of which can grant degrees to the doctoral level. Examples are Pathumwan Institute of Technology (developed from Pathumwan Technical School), King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (Nondhaburi Telecommunications Training Centre), and King Mongkut's Institute of Technology North Bangkok (Thai-German Technical School).
There are two former institutes of technology, which already changed their name to "University of Technology": Rajamangala University of Technology (formerly Institute of Technology and Vocational Education) and King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (Thonburi Technology Institute).
Institutes of technology with different origins are Asian Institute of Technology, which developed from SEATO Graduate School of Engineering, and Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology, an engineering school of Thammasat University.

United Kingdom

Polytechnics were tertiary education teaching institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The comparable institutions in Scotland were collectively referred to as Central Institutions. Like other polytechnics, their aim was to teach both academic and practical subjects. Their focus was applied education for work and their roots concentrated on engineering and applied science, though soon after being founded they also created departments concerned with the humanities. Under the Further and Higher Education Act, 1992 they became fully fledged universities. The UK government recognised that the difference between polytechnics and universities had become irrelevant and confusing. The designation 'polytechnic' was also, less commonly, used by further education colleges such as Kilburn Polytechnic (later renamed as Kilburn College). The division between universities and polytechnics was known as the binary divide.
Academic degrees in polytechnics were validated by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) from 1965 to 1992. The CNAA was chartered by the British government to validate and award degrees and maintain national quality assurance standards. A CNAA degree was recognised as equivalent to a university degree and the courses were under strict scrutiny by assessors external to the Polytechnics. After 1992, the polytechnics (new universities) awarded their own degrees. Sub-degree courses at these institutions were validated by the Business & Technology Education Council (BTEC), and many of them continue to offer BTEC qualifications.
While most polytechnics were formed in the expansion of higher education in the 1960s, some can trace their history back much further than this. For instance, London Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster), emerged from the Royal Polytechnic Institution which was founded in 1838. The first UK Institution to use the name "Polytechnic" was the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, which it still retains, together with the affectionate nick-name "The Poly". The polytechnics were generally seen as ranking below universities in the provision of higher education, due to their lack of degree-awarding powers, the fact that they concentrated on applied education for work, had less research than the universities, and because the qualifications necessary to gain a place in one were lower than for a university. However, in terms of an undergraduate education this was a misconception since all polytechnics offered academic degrees validated by the CNAA from bachelor degree to research degrees. Also professional degrees in, for instance, engineering, town planning, law, and architecture were validated by the professional institutions.
Although many former polytechnics remain low in the University League Tables, some have steadily improved and can be found in the top half of some of the tables of all universities. Examples include Middlesex University (ranked 19th in The Guardian 2004 league table, but 96th in The Times 2007 table) and Oxford Brookes University (2004 The Guardian 26th; The Times 2007 54th).,14612,1223730,00.html,,102571,00.html
The polytechnics changed their names when they gained university status. Some simply dropped "Polytechnic" and added "University" to their titles, however this was often not possible as there was another University with the name. In these cases by far the most popular choice of title was "Metropolitan", because the institution was situated in a city or other large metropolitan area. Examples are Manchester Metropolitan University and Leeds Metropolitan University. These titles are often shortened to "Met" (Man Met, Leeds Met) or an acronym (MMU, LMU). Others adopted a name which reflects the local area, such as Nottingham Trent University (named after the river Trent which flows through Nottingham) and Sheffield Hallam University ('Hallam' referes to the area of South Yorkshire in which Sheffield is situated). The Ulster Polytechnic remains the only polytechnic to unite with a university; this occurred in 1984.
The designation "Institute of Technology" itself was not used consistently in higher education; for example in the British university sector it was used only by the postgraduate institutions Cranfield Institute of Technology (now Cranfield University) and Wessex Institute of Technology. Two university institutes which also taught undergraduates used the related designation "Institutes of Science and Technology"; UWIST (University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology) and UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), both of which have merged with other universities. The designation was also used for a time by two Scottish Central Institutions (Dundee and Robert Gordon's Institutes of Technology) plus the Bolton and Bradford Institutes of Technology, all four of which now have university status and have university in their titles. In addition, Loughborough University of Technology had university status since 1966 and was a fully-fledged university and the only one in the UK to have the designation University of Technology.
See also British Universities and for former Polytechnics, New Universities.

United States

Conversely, schools dubbed "technical colleges" or "technical institutes" generally provide post-secondary training in technical and mechanical fields focusing on training vocational skills primarily at a community college level -- parallel and sometimes equivalent to the first two years at a bachelor's-granting institution. The academic level of these schools varies by course of study; some courses are geared toward immediate employment in a trade, while others are tracked to transfer into a four-year program. Some of these technical institutes are for-profit organizations (such as ITT Technical Institute) compared to most other non-profit educational institutes.


Institutes of technology in Venezuela were developed in the 1950s as an option for post-Secondary education in technical and scientific courses, after the polytechnic French concepts. At that time, technical education was considered essential for the development of a sound middle class economy.
Nowadays, most of the Institutos de Tecnología are privately run businesses, with varying degrees of quality. They are widely regarded, sometimes incorrectly, as inferior to the university education.
Most of these institutes award diplomas after three or three and a half years of education. Few, if any Institutos de Tecnología have any research facilities.


After the communists took control of Hanoi in 1954, with support from Soviet Union, many new universities were built as: ...

Institutions using the terms "institute of technology" or "polytechnic"

University level

There are many university level higher learning institutions granting the highest academic degrees (including doctorate), that use the terms "institute of technology" or "polytechnic" for historic reasons:

Other higher education

There are many other types of higher education institutions (post-secondary education) which are not universities and use the terms "institute of technology" or "polytechnic":

Secondary education

There are also secondary education schools using that word:
polytechnic in Czech: Polytechnika
polytechnic in German: Technische Universität
polytechnic in French: École polytechnique
polytechnic in Hungarian: Budapesti Műszaki és Gazdaságtudományi Egyetem
polytechnic in Dutch: Technische universiteit
polytechnic in Japanese: 理工学部
polytechnic in Polish: Politechnika
polytechnic in Portuguese: Escola Politécnica
polytechnic in Russian: политехнический институт
polytechnic in Vietnamese: Đại học kỹ thuật
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