Our Story

Otago Polytechnic is celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2016 – but our roots are actually much older than that. The Institution dates back to the founding of the Dunedin School of Art in 1870. 


Art school

Technical Education arrives in Dunedin

Scottish art teacher, David Hutton, arrived at Port Chalmers in 1870. He brought with him tonnes of plaster casts of classical sculptures, in preparation for his new role as the province’s first provincial drawing master. In February of 1870 , he opened the Dunedin School of Art – New Zealand’s first art school.

The Technical Classes Association, Dunedin’s first technical school, opened some years after in 1889. It offered evening classes to the locals, and subjects in demand included shorthand, arithmetic, English literature, English, chemistry, mathematics, Latin and carpentry.

These two institutions – The Dunedin School of Art and the Technical Classes Association – worked closely together from the start. Sharing the same Moray Place Building, these institutions grew in popularity, as they worked hard to meet the demand for education from the city’s early settlers. The Dunedin Technical School eventually moved premises to a new purpose-built building on upper Stuart Street and was renamed King Edward Technical College, after the recently deceased King Edward VII.

By 1965, King Edward Technical College was comprised of a technical high school with 1,000 day students and a tertiary division with more than 2,500 school leavers and adults attending full-time, part-time, block and day release or evening classes.


Otago Polytechnic is born

In 1966, Otago Polytechnic opened its doors in the King Edward Technical College building on Stuart Street. Initially, we shared this space with the technical high school. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, until both institutions would be located to new sites – however, it would be many years before we were able to relocate to a new campus.

Otago Polytechnic began with 40 full-time tutors and quickly built upon the courses we had inherited from the technical college. We introduced our first block courses in basic cookery in 1969. During the 1970s, we added apprenticeship training courses in drain-laying, panel-beating, sheet metal engineering and welding, as well as physiotherapy in 1976. The Institution was growing, but we needed more space…

new campus

A new campus

We began our move to the current campus in 1980. This block, bounded by Forth Street, St David Street, Harbour Terrace and Union Street, was a much bigger, flatter and quieter location than Stuart Street.

However, the shift to our new campus was a slow one. It took nearly a decade to buy more than 20 houses, replace them with the necessary Polytechnic buildings and transfer most of the Polytechnic to the new site. The $20 million campus was formally opened on 22 May, 1989.

By the end of the 1980s, Otago Polytechnic had grown considerably, with more than 400 courses on offer. We had a total of 6,349 students enrolled, and 190 full-time tutors – nearly five times the number we had in 1966.


Growth by degrees

The last twenty five years has been a time of growth. The 1989-90 education reforms gave Otago Polytechnic the same degree of autonomy as universities. We also established a new Polytechnic Council in 1990, which has helped to guide the Institution forward over the past two and a half decades.

Government funding increased, and student numbers rose dramatically. At the beginning of the 2000s, we began to see a significant increase in international student numbers, and by 2004, we had 231equivalent full-time international students.

During this period, the Tennyson Street Campus closed, and our Forth Street campus was extended to accommodate the fashion and design, hospitality and language courses.

However, one of the most significant changes in this period, was the introduction of degree programmes. We were now able to provide three types of qualifications: certificates, diplomas, and degrees. In 2000, we introduced New Zealand’s first master’s degree in midwifery, and the country’s first master’s degree in nursing the following year. Since then, the range of bachelor and master’s qualifications available across all of our schools has steadily grown.

Otago Polytechnic has been fifty years in the making, and has undergone an incredible journey. In addition to our Dunedin site, we now have thriving campuses in Central Otago and Auckland. From our beginnings as a fledgling art school, we have grown to become one of New Zealand’s most reputable providers of hands-on, quality tertiary education.