Historically, British polytechnics were seen as ranking below universities in the provision of higher education, due to their lack of degree-awarding powers and the fact that they concentrated on vocational rather than academic courses. Degrees at the polytechnics were validated by the Council for National Academic Awards from 1965 to 1992. After this time, the new universities awarded their own degrees. Differences still remain between the former polytechnics (and other post-1992 universities) and the older universities in terms of pay and conditions for staff and in terms of public perception.
Although many polytechnics were formed in the expansion of higher education in the 1960s, a larger number of them can trace their history back much further than this. One of the most famous polytechnics was the London Polytechnic, which was originally founded in the 19th century.
Polytechnics survive in other countries, and there is often not the distinction between polytechnics and universities that was seen in Britain. There are also similar institutions with different names in other countries (such as TAFE in Australia).