A - Z o f u n i v e r s i t i e s; Sheffield

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Age: 119, from its first incarnation as Firth College.

History: Opened its doors in 1879, offering external University of London degrees. Medical school dates back to 1828. Firth College morphed into university college before becoming Sheffield University this century.

Address: A mile and a half due west of the city centre on campus extending over sizeable urban setting.

Ambience: Most buildings are red brick and easy on the eye, though there are some more modern structures, e.g. the 19-storey arts tower and library which are Grade II listed and quite appealing. Despite the city's reputation for industrial decay (viz The Full Monty), it is surprisingly green and university accommodation is set in what John Betjeman called one of "England's prettiest suburbs".

Vital statistics: Large, civil university with 20,000 full and part-time students. Highly rated for research and popular with students.

Added value: Wide awake students' union - also has a reputation for being well run. Brilliant sports facilities. Hot new journalism course run by ex-Observer editor Donald Trelford.

Easy to get into? A-level grades required range from two As and a B for law, to three Bs for mechanical engineering and three Cs for environmental geology.

Glittering alumni: Carol Barnes, newscaster; David Blunkett, Education Secretary; Stephen Daldry, ex-artistic director, Royal Court Theatre; Sir Harry Kroto and Dr Richard Roberts, Nobel prize-winning chemists; Amy Johnson, pioneering aviator; Jack Rosenthal, playwright; David Wetherall, Leeds United FC; Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut.

Transport links: Good for trains and coaches. For hitching, you have to catch a bus to the M1. For getting about Sheffield, use the Supertram, buses and minibuses. Bikes are hard work because of all the hills. And they get nicked.

Who's the boss? Physicist prof Sir Gareth Roberts, big cheese at the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals. He chaired the CVCP when the Dearing Committee was set up. It recommended annual tuition fees of pounds 1,000. He was widely credited with engineering the whole thing. Tottenham Hotspur fan.

Teaching: Awarded 24 (out of 24) for electronic and electrical engineering, automatic control and systems engineering; 24 for Russian and Slavonic studies; 23 for landscape/town and regional planning; 22 for English language and linguistics; 22 for East Asian studies; 22 for engineering materials; 21 for chemical engineering, civil and structural engineering, French, Hispanic studies; 20 for Germanic studies.

Research: Came 18 out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Achieved tip-top 5* in archaeology, Biblical studies, electronic and electrical engineering, engineering materials, information studies. Awarded a 5 (top grade) in architecture/landscape, automatic control and systems engineering, education, geography, history, law, mechanical engineering, music, philosophy, politics, psychology, Russian and Slavonic studies, town and regional planning.

Financial health: More than pounds 5 million in the red in 1995-96, according to Noble's Higher Education Financial Yearbook, because it funded an early retirement scheme. That was reduced to a deficit of pounds 600,000 the following year.

Nightlife: Students' union club nights practically every night of the week. Big-name bands include Finley Quaye, Foo Fighters and Oasis. In the city there's the Crucible Theatre and the Leadmill Nightclub, voted best UK nightspot by popular music press.

Cheap to live in? Not bad. Accommodation ranges from pounds 37 a week in university self-catered room to pounds 65 a week in hall of residence. Private sector rents start at pounds 33 a week.

Buzzword: Tozzing (good, brilliant).

Next week: Sheffield Hallam

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