Age: 165

Address: Mostly in the centre of the medieval city except for University College, Stockton, 15 miles south.

Ambience: Surrounded by cobbled streets and dominated by the Norman cathedral, the university is steeped in history. The original college - University College - has its home in Durham Castle and dates from 1079. It is the oldest building used for student accommodation in Britain. Other old colleges, Hatfield, St Cuthbert's Society, St John's and St Chad's, line the historic Bailey by the Cathedral. But most students live in newer residences on the hill.

Vital statistics: With its academic reputation, venerable traditions and college set-up (the university is made up of 15 colleges) it attracts private-school applicants and Oxbridge rejects. Two-thirds come from the state sector and one-third from private schools. Social life revolves around colleges. All except St Mary's, which is all-female, have gone co-ed. Big on sport, from hockey to hang-gliding, rowing to rugby. Student population 7,000, up by 50 per cent in 10 years. Building hasn't kept pace, so most students live out of college for at least a year.

Added value: Pioneered add-on courses in computer skills, language learning and economic awareness.

Easy to get in to? No. Particularly not in popular subjects such as law, English and history. Many offers are in the AAB-ABC range for A-levels but some subjects seek three Cs.

Glittering alumni: Will Carling and Phil de Glanville, rugby players; Mo Mowlam and Jack Cunningham, Labour frontbenchers; Piers Merchant, Tory MP who kissed a blonde in the park; Jonathan Edwards, triple-jumper; Nasser Hussain, cricketer; Judith Hann, television presenter; Harold Evans, former newspaper editor, now publisher; Hunter Davies, journalist; Minette Walters, thriller writer; Sir George Russell, chairman of Camelot; Nick Scheele, head of Jaguar.

Transport links: good road and rail links on East Coast line and A1. Half an hour from two regional airports. You don't need a car. It's too small and you can't park.

Who's the boss? Professor Evelyn Ebsworth, chemist, who is due to retire in September next year.

Teaching rating: high scores in French, German, Russian, linguistics, Arabic and Middle Eastern studies, chemistry, history, applied social studies, law, anthropology, geography, English and geological sciences.

Research: 17th out of 112 in the Higher Education Funding Council's research assessment exercise with a 5* (the top grade) in geography and a 5 in mathematics, East Asian studies and theology.

Financial health: Just in the black on a budget of pounds 90m. But is applying firm spending brake. Its priority is to spend money on extending the library and information technology facilities and building more student accommodation. Inserted a disclaimer into next year's prospectus saying it might have to charge top-up fees if competitor universities did so.

Nightlife: all colleges have bars and social life; central students' union has more entertainment; there are pubs, restaurants and clubs in Durham, more in nearby Newcastle.

Cheap to live in? Not bad. Full board in colleges is around pounds 70 a week. Private rented housing is pounds 40 weekly.

Buzz-phrase: It's a mare (It's a nightmare).

Next week: University of East Anglia.