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Our Story

Ara Institute of Canterbury is Canterbury’s largest vocational educational provider.

Ara was created in 2016 when CPIT and Aoraki Polytechnic merged, bringing together two well-established organisations, each with around 100 years of experience and success.

Our History

The history of Aoraki Polytechnic and CPIT go hand in hand and are intertwined with major developments in New Zealand education. Both institutes have focused on providing accessible and relevant vocational training; CPIT in Christchurch and Aoraki Polytechnic in South Canterbury. 

Aoraki Polytechnic first began teaching courses at its Timaru Campus in 1901 when Timaru Technical School was established in a room at the Timaru Main School, providing evening classes and catering for about 250 students in 15  subjects. The classes were so successful that in 1908 a new building was constructed on Timaru’s Arthur Street.

Evening courses known as the Christchurch Technical Associated Classes were first started in Christchurch in 1902. This led to the establishment of the Christchurch Technical College (CTI), and teaching in the new building began in 1907. The college offered technical courses for high school students in arithmetic, geography and drawing, and apprentice training.

Post war expansion

Both organisations continued to expand throughout the first half of the 20th century. Following World War II, public education was dramatically expanded and the 1948 Apprentices Act led to the introduction of daytime classes for plumbing, carpentry, motor engineering, sheet metal and electrical engineering in Christchurch.

The organisations continued to evolve and in the 1970s focused on providing tertiary vocational education and training. In 1970 Timaru established its School of Commerce and extended trades training for automotive, building and engineering apprentices. In the same period Christchurch also increased its programmes. Nursing was added in 1973 and a range of other courses were introduced to align with industry such as Canterbury Meat Workers and Related Trades Unions and the Canterbury Rubber Workers Union.

From 1975 to 1984 CTI grew dramatically as classes were increased and a greater emphasis was placed on marketing, liaison and student services. Student hours grew from 1.786 million in 1974 to 2.389 million in 1984. Equivalent full time staff grew from 173.6 to 253.4 over the same period.

Community involvement

CTI increasingly assisted the community and government to meet society’s ongoing needs, such as helping tradespeople and apprentices make the change from imperial units of measurement to the metric system.

An increase in unemployment in the 1970s and 80s led to the establishment of upskilling courses to help people find employment.

Being enmeshed in community education, the two institutes became involved in ongoing social issues including gender equality and indigenous rights, which led to more appointments of women and a greater focus on Tangata whenua.

In the 1980s New Zealand’s education landscape continued to change. In 1981 the Christchurch Polytechnic introduced Business Studies and Asian languages with Japanese initially introduced in 1980 and Mandarin in 1988. English as a Second Language courses were becoming increasingly necessary due to the arrival of refugees from South East Asia and also Chile.

Degree programmes introduced

During the 1990s diplomas and certificate courses evolved into fully fledged degrees and graduate diplomas. The first degree programmes were introduced in 1993 - the Bachelor in Japanese Language and Bachelor in Broadcasting. In 2000 Christchurch Polytechnic became CPIT.

Aoraki Polytechnic continued to expand both its course offerings and its locations, making education accessible to a greater portion of Canterbury in the 1990s and 2000s.

New name and logo

In 2016 CPIT and Aoraki Polytechnic were approved by the Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce to create Ara Institute of Canterbury to provide innovative and relevant vocational training to the entire Canterbury region.

Ara is the Māori word for path or journey. It represents the learning process, the many pathways to success, and the routes and rivers that criss-cross the Canterbury Plains from the mountains to the sea.

Underpinning the logo is the phrase 'Ara rau, taumata rau' which translates to 'many pathways, many opportunities'. This phrase captures the varied aspirations of our learners, and recognises that learning is a lifelong undertaking.All of these concepts are reflected in the logo, which illustrates the upward journey of learning and the summit of success. Drawing inspiration from Māori tukutuku panelling and the teeth of a Taniwha (which represent strength and determination), the triangles create many entry and exit points, and depict the many pathways available at Ara.

The Future

We're proud of where we've come from and excited about where we're heading.


1901 - Timaru Technical College was established in a room at Timaru Main School

1903 - Christchurch Technical Associated classes started in Christchurch

1906 - Christchurch Technical College opened

1908 - Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction was incorporated and moved to Moorhouse Avenue in 1911

1918 - Timaru Technical College offered full-time day classes with a technical bias for high school students

1934 - Timaru Technical College was renamed Timaru Technical High School

1948 - Christchurch Technical College introduced daytime classes for plumbing, carpentry, motor engineering, sheet metal, and electrical engineering

1965 - Christchurch Technical Institute was launched

1967 - Timaru Technical High School was renamed Timaru College

1973 - Nurse training was introduced at Christchurch Technical Institute

1979 - A growing awareness of Māori culture was reflected with the appointment of Hohua Tutengaehe as the first honorary kaumatua

1980 - Christchurch Technical Institute was renamed Christchurch Polytechnic

1980s - Japanese and Mandarin language programmes were introduced at Christchurch Polytechnic

1983 - Media programmes were first introduced at Christchurch Polytechnic

1987 - Timaru Technical College was renamed Aoraki Polytechnic

1993 - First degree programmes were introduced at Christchurch Polytechnic by the New Zealand Broadcasting School and Department of Japanese Language

2000 - Christchurch Polytechnic was renamed CPIT

2011 - In response to the Canterbury earthquakes, CPIT increased trades training, introduced He Toki ki te Rika (Māori Trades Training) and Pasifika Trades training to upskill more Cantabrians for the rebuild of the city and began the Campus Master Planning programme of updating facilities through refurbishment and new construction

2015 - The new Te Whareora (Science and Wellbeing facility) was opened at CPIT’s City campus by Prime Minister John Key

2016 - CPIT and Aoraki Polytechnic joined together to create Ara Institute of Canterbury to provide innovative vocational training to the entire Canterbury region

2017 - Kahukura, a new $34million, 6500sqm building on Moorhouse Avenue housing Ara’s Engineering and Architectural Studies Department, was opened by Prime Minister Bill English

2019 - Manawa, a state-of-the-art hub for health research and education in Christchurch’s Health Precinct was officially opened. A partnership between Ara, the Canterbury District Health Board and University of Canterbury, it houses health students, researchers, educators and technical staff

2020 - Ara Institute of Canterbury becomes a subsidiary of Te Pūkenga New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology