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Our Story

Ara Institute of Canterbury Ltd 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 School established in a room at the Timaru Main School

1902 - Christchurch Technical Associated classes started in Christchurch

1906 – The Seddon Memorial Technical College was established on Moorhouse Avenue in Christchurch.

1906 – Formally opened as the Christchurch Technical College

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

1919 – Timaru Technical School offered fulltime day classes with a technical bias for high school students.

1934 – Timaru Technical School became Timaru Technical College.

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

1965 – Christchurch Technical Institute was launched.

1973 – Nurse training was introduced at Christchurch Technical Institute.

1979 – A growing awareness of Maori culture was reflected with the appointment of Hohua Tutengaehe as the first honorary kaumatua in 1979.

1980 – Christchurch Technical College was renamed the Christchurch Polytechnic.

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

1983 – Media programmes were first introduced at Christchurch Polytechnic

1988 – 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.

2010 – 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. The government contributed $18.9m to upgrading facilities and staff capability at CPIT’s Trades department.

2015 – The new Te Whareora (Science and Wellbeing facility) was opened by Prime Minister John Key at the Madras Street Campus.

2016 – CPIT and Aoraki Polytechnic joined together to create Ara Institute of Canterbury to provide innovative vocational training to the entire Canterbury region. The Ara Transformation Plan assessed and began to respond to the needs of regional industries, communities and learners.

2017  - Kahukura was opened by Prime Minister Bill English, a new $34million, 6500 sq metre building on Moorhouse Avenue to house Ara’s Engineering and Architectural Studies Department and Students.

2017 - Te Kei, Ara’s administration hub was opened in 2017 and houses the Executive Team, People and Culture, Finances, Marketing Services and International Services. The building’s open-plan spaces create an environment and culture that supports the flexible and collaborative team work.

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